The colour of tomorrow's money

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The Independent Online
John Major has said he wants to "wait and see" before he decides whether to join the European Monetary Union.

Yesterday, he (and everybody else) could see just what the shape and size of a single currency will be, though a British decision on membership seemed as far away as ever.

Depicting bridges between nations and gateways to the future, Europe's new euro banknotes were unveiled at the headquarters of the Central Bank of Ireland "at the dawning of a new common Europe".

But what is this new common Europe? According to the map on the notes, parts of Finland are missing. Russia is there, but Turkey is not. Britain is clearly part of Europe but looks somewhat misshapen. The Shetlands are missing and Wales will be unhappy with its bulge.

There are no people in this future Europe; the designs show monuments and bridges but no Europeans. "The difficulty with people," said Alexander Lamfalussy, president of the European Monetary Institute, fore-runner of the European Central Bank, "is that people usually belong to a country".

Reaction to the designs was generally favourable. "Pretty. Stylish. Very European," were some comments. "Bland" was another.

The faces of the notes, in seven denominations from 5 to 500 euros, depict windows and gateways from the seven "ages" of European cultural history, including Classical, Baroque and 20th century. The reverse side shows a bridge design from the same periods.

The most contentious issue, of whether a national symbol will appear on the notes, remains to be decided.

One-fifth of the notes' reverse side has been left clear for such an eventuality, but the Queen will not know if she is to appear until the middle of next year.

Close by, at Dublin Castle, Europe's heads of government at their summit meeting were having difficulty sketching out their future map of Europe.

How many countries will be "in" or "out" of the euro-zone remained as unclear as ever. But Europe's leaders were able to proclaim a breakthrough in building the architecture for the single-currency zone. Agreement on the stability pact, which will govern economic policy after the creation of the euro, will be taken as yet another sign of Europe's political will to launch the currency in 1999.

Mr Lamfalussy proclaimed the unveiling of the notes as a milestone. Although the bills will not start circulating until 2002, yesterday's date was, he said, of "major historic significance". It seemed to have escaped Mr Lamfalussy's notice that the notes were being launched on Friday the 13th.

Your flexible friend, page 10