When almost a dozen developed economies come together in a currency union, the rest of the globe might be expected to sit up and take notice. But the birth pangs of European Monetary Union's euro currency have been so protracted that the news that 11 nations are likely to meet the criteria for membership at the beginning of 1999 has aroused little attention outside Europe itself. This may be because the eyes of the world have been on the Asian crisis, and because the US dollar has been so dominant that it obscures other currencies. Britain's refusal to join in has cast a shadow over the euro project. The scramble to meet the membership criteria has also thrown up some examples of creative accounting at the national level that raise eyebrows among more orthodox bankers. Still, a monetary union including the world's third and fourth economies - Germany and France - plus such countries as Italy, Holland and Spain should have repercussions well beyond Western Europe, with implications for both the United States and Asia from the start of the next century. If the yen continues to be as weak as it has been recently, and Japan stays with its conservative domestic economic path, the countries of the new euro currency may reasonably hope to become the counterweight and alternative to the US dollar in international dealings. Some proponents of the euro seem ready to lean towards a 'soft' currency which would float gently downwards to achieve a currency devaluation that would boost European exports. This may look tempting given the high levels of unemployment in France and Germany, and the political uncertainties which result in both nations - shown vividly at the weekend by the victory of the opposition Social Democrats in a key regional election. But this would be to negate the achievements in terms of deficit cutting which have been achieved to bring the euro into being - Western Europe's equivalent of an IMF cure. Europeans sometimes worry about US hegemony. One answer to that is to develop a joint currency as an alternative to the dollar. Whether they can achieve the unity of purpose to do that is the great political and economic test which the advent of the joint currency is about to bring for the founding members of the euro.