A Europe-wide contest for the design of euro notes is to be announced next week in Frankfurt in a drive to renew public support for the single currency. The contest is certain to be controversial in Britain, given the Government's uncertainty about whether to join European monetary union.
John Major is trying to heal Conservative divisions over monetary union by suggesting it may not happen at all and there were indications last night that Britain may not support the design contest for fear of inflaming Eurosceptic anger.
Neither the Treasury nor the Bank of England was able to comment when asked whether their designers would be taking part.
The competition is to be announced by the European Monetary Institute in Frankfurt, the European Union's central-bank-in-waiting, responsible for planning the changeover to the single currency.
The EMI has clearly timed the announcement to reinforce its absolute commitment to monetary union at a time of increasing doubts.
Under the draft contest rules the winning design must be based on a common European theme, picturing for example, famous European people, buildings, animals, trains or cars. Entrants may also be able to submit abstract design ideas. It is understood the rules require a small national symbol.
The competition will not be open to all-comers. Instead, the EMI is expected to propose that central banks should nominate designers. Design of the euro coins is handled separately by Europe's mintmasters, although it is likely that the final emblems on both notes and coins will be similar.
The results of the contest would not be known for some time as the judges will be members of the European Central Bank itself, which will not be set up until 1998. Under the plan, the Bank of England would be invited to submit its own ideas along with the other banks.
Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, has always insisted that Britain should be involved in practical preparations for EMU, should it opt to join up, and officials from the Treasury and Bank of England already sit on EMI planning committees.
However even Mr Clarke may be reluctant for Britain to take part in such a high-profile design contest.
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