There are more Europeans today buying and selling things with a single currency than there are Americans buying and selling things with dollars.
Which is not to say that the euro is going to supplant the dollar anytime soon on the world financial market, but its long-range prospects can't be dismissed.
The euro was introduced three years ago, to much hoopla and to an obviously inflated exchange rate of $1.17 per euro. Over three years, it lost a quarter of its comparative value and is trading now at about 90 cents to the euro. If the two currencies reach parity, you'll know the euro has arrived.
Unifying factor: But the early success of the euro can't be gauged by its dollar value; its greater value seems to lie in the unifying effect it is having on Europe. Euro paper money carries a common European emblem, but the eight denominations of coins are different colors and sizes and are decorated on one side with national emblems.
There is something about a German paying for a pair of Italian loafers with a "Spanish" coin or a Finn buying a glass of French wine with "Grecian" coin. The euro could do as much to unify Europe as the 1995 Schengen Agreement, which allows a citizen of any member country to travel, live and study in most of Western Europe without a passport or a visa. Border guards, that staple of suspense in old movies, are a thing of the past.
What's out: Twelve of the 15 European Union nations have signed on to the euro. It became the standard currency for 300 million residents of those nations on New Year's Day and each country is giving its citizens a month of two of grace before their familiar currencies are out of the market place. Gone will be the Austrian schilling, Belgian franc, Dutch guilder, Finnish mark, French franc, German mark, Grecian drachma, Irish punt, Italian lira, Portuguese escudo, Spanish peseta and Luxembourg franc.
Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden are the only hold-outs among the Common Market countries.
The movement toward establishing the euro, an idea broached after World War II as another way of lessening the possibility of war between the European nations, has moved rapidly in recent years. Considering the enormous challenges involved in working out exchange rates for the currencies of 12 countries, it has been a remarkable feat.
Maintaining a fair value on the world currency market is going to create a challenge for nations with different work cultures and varying rates of national productivity. Europeans are not only going to have to think more alike, they're going to have to work more alike.