For the first time since Charlemagne's reign in the ninth century, Europe is united with a common currency when the euro debuts as a financial unit in corporate and investment markets. Eleven European Union nations, representing 290 million people, launched the currency with hopes of increasing European integration and economic growth. Closing at a robust 1.17 U.S. dollars on its first day, the euro promised to give the dollar a run for its money in the new global economy. This initial optimism, however, soon petered out when the euro began a long, steady decline, dropping below dollar parity in December 1999 and losing another 20 percent of its value in 2000. Despite these setbacks, hard euro currency--decorated with architectural images, symbols of European unity, and member-state motives--is scheduled to hit the streets on January 1, 2002, permanently replacing the mark, markka, franc, lira, peseta, florin, Irish pound, Austrian schilling, and escudo by July of that year.