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After the fun - the real challenge

They were sent from Athens, London and Madrid. They burned the midnight oil and engaged in intellectual debate, hammering out the finer points of monetary union. But by spring, the economists will be rolling up their spreadsheets and leaving Frankfurt as the European Monetary Institute is transformed into the European Central Bank. In the meantime, the battle for influence has to be won all over again. In the committee rooms, it is already beginning. By Laura Covill.

After less than a year, the Euronet restaurant in the basement of the European Monetary Institute tower in Frankfurt has been forced to close. Star Catalan architect Alfredo Arribas had hoped to initiate Frankfurt's moneymen into his modernist philosophy of cavernous interior design and communal seating at long tables, as in his vogueish eateries in Barcelona and London. But the restaurant's nearest neighbours shunned it, preferring the honest grub of Medius Keller, the cosy German pub across the street. After a long day's work Europe's future central bankers were underwhelmed by the Euronet's office-style furniture and brittle atmosphere.

For the past four years adventurous economic debate, not designer chic, has been the Zeitgeist at the EMI. Economists from 15 central banks have come here thrilled by the challenge of designing a new monetary policy framework and central banking operation for the whole of the European Union. Some describe it as the most exciting and stimulating work they have ever done.

This winter the lights will burn later than ever as the economics and policy teams work on the final European monetary and economic union convergence report, to be published in March. Its authors hope their conclusions will be the decisive influence on the politicians who will make the final choice of which countries will join Emu in the first stage, and on what terms.

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