Prospect of Euros Met with Skepticism: Move to Common Currency Uneven

Article excerpt

GENEVA - In Nancy, eastern France, recently, Sophie Carolus looked at her monthly bank statement and noticed, under the balance in French francs, a much smaller sum.

She thought the mysterious sum was "minable" - miserable, shabby, lamentable - and called her bank manager.

"It's in euros," he explained. "We're trying to get our customers used to it."

Miss Carolus, an ophthalmologist, was not the only one shocked by the practice. She called it "brainwashing" and insisted that the rate quoted made no sense and was fictitious and unethical. According to opinion polls, 66 percent of Frenchmen want a referendum on the euro, that mysterious currency threatening - or enticing, depending on one's point of view - the Old Continent.

The euro is definitely on the agenda of the 15-nation European Union, but few of its members currently qualify for the first "round," still scheduled for Jan. 1, 1999.

In fact, there is a strong likelihood that France and Germany, the two countries in the forefront of the battle over the euro, will meet what is known as "the Maastricht criteria." Among various requirements, the treaty of Maastricht specifies that a country can only qualify for the unified currency if its budget deficit does not exceed 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

While most Europeans agree that economic union is a good thing, opinions are bitterly divided on the need - and feasibility - of a unified currency.

The British firmly oppose it and the Germans are leaning that way, too. The Italians, used to many zeroes on their banknotes, do not appear to worry that a small euro (expected to be worth about 80 U.S. cents) might replace their millions of liras.

Not many Europeans have grasped the intricacies of the proposed unified monetary system, which would take over the role of their central banks and, to some extent, of their various finance ministries. In short, the countries participating in the unified currency would lose some of their sovereignty. …