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The European Union is turning to advertising to persuade wary consumers that a single European currency is a good idea.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, next month will invite advertising and media executives from the 15 member countries to a January discussion of how to educate citizens about the benefits of the new currency.

The introduction of a single European currency, favored by business but widely mistrusted by consumers, has been postponed from 1997 to 1999.

More than 300 people from consumer groups, trade unions, national governments and other fields including advertising and media will meet for two days in Brussels.

European Commission officials suggested an ad budget of about $108 million over five years starting in 1996, but European finance ministers are understood to have rejected it.

"It is still undecided, but the commission is considering a figure roughly one-third of that initial suggestion," an EC insider said.

Germany, with the biggest economy and the strongest currency in Europe, is going ahead with its own ad campaign to persuade skeptical Germans that they will not be sacrificing their strong deutsche mark for a weak European currency.

The government's information office has invited six German ad agencies, including von Mannstein, Solingen, and two public relations companies to pitch in late November for a $7 million to $8 million per year account. The campaign is likely to start by January and run through 1999.

A recent poll by the Institute for Demographics found only 31% of 1,854 Germans surveyed favor a single European currency; 43% oppose it and 26% are undecided.

In general, the business community is more favorable. A new Coopers & Lybrand survey of 995 executives in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy found about three-quarters favor one currency. The French are most enthusiastic, with 94% in favor, and the British the least, with 54% in favor. Perceived benefits include ending exchange rate fluctuations and making cross-border trade simpler. Loss of national sovereignty and flexibility, and a difficult transition period are seen as negatives.

A new name is also needed. For years the ECU, or European Currency Unit, hasn't really caught on. The most likely choice for a new name: the Euro.

Dagmar Mussey and Juliana Koranteng contributed to this story.

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