The dawning of 2002 will have special significance for a dozen European nations and 300 million citizens of the eurozone as they bid farewell to their local currencies at the stroke of midnight.
More than 15 billion banknotes worth more than 630 billion euros and 51 billion coins worth almost 16 billion euros have been produced, according to the European Central Bank. Much of that will go into circulation on Tuesday in a move the Europeans hope will encourage trade, investment and travel to the region.
The advent of a single currency also has far-reaching political implications. Images of statesmen and local heroes that once adorned the old coins and banknotes of individual nations have been replaced with generic images of bridges and archways in an attempt to subdue national interests and promote greater openness and cooperation among the 12 countries adopting the euro.
Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain will join the single currency.
Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain will retain their currencies.
While the transition should be relatively glitch-free, some teething problems may take place when businesses and shops open after the New Year's Day holiday. Local currencies will coexist with the euro for a few more weeks, which could be problematic for retailers who aren't used to dealing with two currencies at once. Some people have expressed concern that retailers will use the conversion to raise prices. Others fear that counterfeiters will exploit the initial confusion.
Meanwhile, public acceptance of the euro has been uneven. For example, some Germans worry that their stable mark will be replaced by a currency that has lost about 25% of its value against the U.S. dollar since the start of 1999. According to a survey by the European Commission, only 48% of Europeans think the currency will mean more advantages than disadvantages, while 70% were concerned about price abuses.
Still, the ECB is convinced that Europe will ultimately be stronger and more united as a result of the single currency.
"The euro has clearly demonstrated it can achieve its main objectives. These include ensuring price stability, enhancing market transparency acrossnational borders, and facilitating commerce both inside and outside Europe," Willem F. Duisenberg, president of the ECB, said in a statement.
The euro has been in use by banks and traders for the past three years, although citizens used local currency to purchase goods.
"I firmly believe that, because of what the euro has shown it can achieve, and also because of the shared values it symbolizes, Europe is stronger than it would ever have been without the dream of the euro coming true," Duisenberg said.
The ECB will publish daily updates about the conversion on its Web site from Jan. 2 to Jan. 11 and weekly updates on Jan. 18 and Jan. 25.