France became the first country to mint euros on Monday just over a week after European Union leaders sealed a messy deal on France's role in the new European Central Bank.

The first euros to be produced anywhere emerged shortly after 1 p.m., seconds after French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, smiling broadly, set the machinery in motion at the French Mint's coin stamping plant near Bordeaux in southwestern France."That's it. It is the first euro in France and in Europe," he said as the first coin popped out.

He picked it up, bit it and said: "And I can assure you it is a real one."

The start of the euro mint run heralds the demise of the French franc and the 10 other currencies that have joined the euro's first wave.

The ceremony kicked off a mammoth industrial operation, far divorced from deficits, political rows or disputes about countries' eligibility to take part.

Between now and the spring of 2002, when euro coinage and notes will be introduced into general circulation, France alone will have to mint some 7.6 billion coins. A total of 12 million coins will be made in France daily for the next three years.