Steps taken last weekend by 11 European Union nations toward eventually giving up their own currency in exchange for the euro on Jan 1, 1999, could end the U.S. dollar's dominance in world trade and eliminate all those tiresome exchange rates that make it so difficult, and costly, to do business in Europe.
The American equivalent would be having to change money every time you cross a state line.To illustrate the problem, the chairman of Dutch conglomerate Phillips once toured 12 European nations with 1,000 Dutch guilders. He never spent the money, just converted it into local currency - and saw 60 percent of it go to commissions, exchange fees and bank buy-sell spreads.
Likewise, Motorola now spends $15 million a year on currency exchanges in Europe, and another $1 million to administer that department. Those costs will disappear the day the euro becomes common tender on the continent.
So if it's such a good idea, why are four of the EU's 15-member nations not included in the euro launch? And why do so many French and Germans, who are included, wish they weren't?
First, Greece failed to meet the criteria - low inflation and interest rates, a small deficit and declining public debt - required for joining the euro. Second, Britain, Denmark and Sweden opted to stay out and watch the euro's performance before they deem it politically safe to join in the common currency.
Third, a prickly nationalism could undermine the entire concept of non-nationalistic money.
British polls show only one in four Britons favors switching from the pound to the euro. A more recent German survey by the Forsa institute for Deutsche Welle television found nearly 60 percent of Germans would rather keep their own currency because they do not believe the euro will be as stable as the mark.
In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, is calling on his followers to ''stay faithful to the franc'' and defend French sovereignty against European and global economic threats.
Although his party is primarily against immigration, blaming them for France's high unemployment rate, Mr. Le Pen has broadened his focus to include other threats to national identity, including ''the prophets of CNN, The Washington Post and the Eurocracy in Brussels.''
The National Front is supported by only 15 percent of French voters, but gained newfound respectability by making deals with maverick center-right politicians after regional elections in March.
It's not only the French right that opposes the euro. Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a socialist, compares the euro's launch to the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
''The sea is calm, the dining saloon is superb, everything is very comfortable and full of luxury,'' he said. ''The orchestra plays, it's a dream. But the Titanic is charging at full steam towards the pack ice. By the time we see the iceberg, perhaps it will be too late.''
The launch party, last weekend's summit in Brussels, was marred by the Franco-Dutch battle over the presidency of the European Central Bank. The compromise to split the eight-year term between their two candidates was immediately attacked as a violation of the Maastricht Treaty.
Even the euro's supporters called it a rotten start to what is supposed to evolve into a United States of Europe.