Revealed: the two colours of Europe's new money

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The Independent Online
THE SHAPE and size of a new European coinage has already been agreed by the directors of the EU's national mints.

In strict secrecy, the directors have decided that coins of the single European currency, which may be used by the end of the century, will be two-tone - discs of two metal alloys, one coloured gold, the other silver. On some denominations, the gold will encircle the silver, while on others, the silver will be the outer ring.

The idea is to make the coins harder to counterfeit. France already uses such a scheme with its 10-franc piece, as does Italy with its 500-lire coin.

The scheme will be put before the EU's finance ministers, incuding the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, at a meeting in Brussels tomorrow. It comes from the committee of EU "mint masters", which is believed to include Roger Holmes, controller of Britain's Royal Mint at Llantrisant, near Cardiff.

Their recommendations, to be presented tomorrow, have been among the EU's most closely guarded secrets.

According to highly placed sources in Brussels, their report calls for urgent decisions on the size, shape and design of the money, because time is running out for mints to produce enough coins by the end of the century.

The mint masters say that it is already too late to produce enough new coins in time to introduce the single currency in 1997, the earliest target date for the launch of monetary union. It is also probably too late to introduce it in 1999, the latest deadline. The mints estimate it would take four to five years to produce sufficient coins.

They recommend that the highest-denomination coin be two ecus - now about £1.50 - which will be 27mm in diameter (just over an inch) and 1.8mm thick, with an outer ring of silver (copper-nickel alloy), and an inner ring of gold (copper-nickel-aluminium). The one-ecu coin will be only a millimetre smaller in diameter, but the colour scheme will be reversed. The half- ecu coin, likely to be the one most commonly used in vending machines, may be two-tone, but smaller ones are likely to be silver-coloured.

Discussion of the most sensitive issue - the symbols to apear on the coins - is unresolved. However, it is understood the mint masters advise against any individual national symbols.