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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 05:29 GMT
European press review
Today's European papers hail the introduction of the euro and look at what steps EU leaders should take next.

Euro star!

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemiene Zeitung greets the dawn of the euro with a friendly "Good morning, euro".

The paper believes that now Europeans have got actual coins and banknotes in their hands, "Europe, which until now most citizens have experienced as an abstract construct, will become a tangible reality day-in day-out".

"What can be said for sure is that the euro will make more of a contribution towards building a European feeling of community than earlier steps toward integration such as the discontinuation of border checks or the launch of the single European market," it says.

"After three years spent getting into the mood for the euro, the grief felt at parting company with national currencies has been limited even in Germany, where the economy and the currency have been hallmarks of the national identity to a greater extent than in other countries", it comments.

"For us Germans, the common currency sets the seal on Europe's integration of the reunited and politically sovereign Germany."

"The feeling of European identity to which the euro contributes may even promote a culture of stability in Europe", it adds.

"Many a test of its strength may lie ahead, but the euro is a sign of hope. That being so, let us greet the new era with enthusiasm."

Hamburg's Die Welt also believes there is reason to rejoice at the arrival of the euro.

"The euro will build bridges and open doors such as those symbolically depicted on its bank notes," the paper says.

"Wars among countries that share a common currency can no longer be imagined. Europe has taken a great step forward."

For its part, the French Le Figaro is happy that "the 'euro bug' did not materialize" and sees the birth of the new currency as "smooth and pain-free".

But since 1 January was a holiday, the paper expects "the real baptism of fire" to come today, Wednesday, when everyday actions like feeding coins into a parking meter, paying a motorway toll or buying a cup of coffee, threaten a day "full of euro-ambushes".

It sees an ominous sign of teething troubles ahead in the fact that on Tuesday, "the queues at the tills of the few department stores open grew longer as the day grew older".

The euro vision thing

Spain's El Pais hails the introduction of the new coins as "a historic step in the building of Europe" which shows that "the dream of greater integration is becoming a reality".

However, it goes on to note that "the real euro has arrived at a difficult time for the European economy and this will be the acid test for the European monetary authorities and for economic policy".

It urges European leaders to use "the important psychological impact" of the arrival of the euro to build a competitive, deregulated economy to rival that of the United States, noting that member countries will have to renounce sovereignty if the goal is to be achieved.

"That said," it adds, "the European Union must not limit itself to just being an internal space... With the euro in its pocket, the EU has an enormous international responsibility to shoulder, as a power that promotes, more by conviction than imposition, the values of liberty, tolerance, coexistence and democracy."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau has also been looking beyond the euro to what is needed next.

The European Union, its says, now has a common currency to go with its single market and the basis of a common internal and foreign policy. "Thus, in a common market with a common currency, it would be quite absurd to allow fifteen different economic, social and labour market policies to muddle along alongside and against each other," it argues.

The paper believes the will exists to set up what it calls "some kind of economic and social government".

What the EU lacks in the paper's eyes, however, are the personalities with the strength, influence and common sense to put such theory into practice.

But no sign of an 'entente cordiale'

"From Athens to Helsinki, from Lisbon to Berlin," writes the French Le Monde, "the Europeans have welcomed the euro with child-like exuberance."

"It was all like a big party," the paper says, "and no-one will be churlish enough" to try and separate which part of the party celebrated the New Year and which "marked the accomplishment of a monetary revolution".

As for the French themselves, it adds, they "voted for the euro with their credit cards". In fact, by the time 2002 was two hours old, a total of 176,442 withdrawals for 12.8 million euros had already been made from cash dispensers the length and breadth of France.

But there were some "party-poopers", as the paper calls them, "among them the British press, most of which is eurosceptic". It reports that a number of British dailies "had some fun" quoting from an article in the British Journal of Dermatology saying that the high nickel content of some of the new coins "could cause eczema".

"You can take the franc out of France but you can't take the Frenchness out of the French," says a totally nickel-free report in Britain's THE Independent.

"The first day of the euro," the paper says, "passed off in Paris - and the rest of France - amid great calm and in widespread indifference to the 'rules' laid down by French officialdom."

The rules are that, for the brief period of coexistence between the old and new currencies, payments in francs must receive change in euros.

"Bof, why should we do the government's work?" the paper quotes French shopkeepers as saying. "We'll get rid of our francs first and we'll come around to the euro in due course."

But this does not mean rejection of the new currency, the paper points out, "just a rejection of the rules". French people, it adds, "accept the theoretical necessity for red traffic lights, but that does not stop them driving through them whenever they can".

Keep it Mr Britain, Tony

In London, THE Times does not seem particularly concerned that Britain has missed the birth of the euro.

Prime Minister Tony Blair "can wield influence as Mr Britain more than Mr Europe", the paper believes. His coming visit to the Indian subcontinent is a case in point.

"Mr Blair's voice will carry weight," the paper says of the prime minister's expected bid to steer India and Pakistan away from war. "Although his hectic travelling has grated with many voters at home, it has boosted his standing overseas," it adds.

This standing has nothing to do with Britain being "a component part of a European Union entity", the paper points out, but rather with "the links of history, culture, language, trade and immigration".

So those who "argue today that the arrival of the euro underlines the urgency of Britain joining in if it is not to be sidelined... miss the point", the paper believes.

Tony Blair "is flying to Delhi to add Britain's individual voice to the pressure for restraint", it points out. "If he succeeds, he will have helped more than a billion people avert war. That would be a British achievement, not the influence of a single currency."

Towards Euro-Pun union?

Almost all the EU papers fail to resist the temptation to celebrate the introduction of the new currency with a series of groanworthy euro-puns. Amid tough competition, Vienna's Die Presse distinguishes itself by, er, coining the most words with the new euro.

"Of course," it writes, "the euro was greeted with europhoria, even though we are sad that the good old schilling is undergoing eurothanasia."

"However, it would be a europhemism to say," it continues, "that we have no problems with the conversions (even Euroclid would probably have his difficulties)."

Perhaps the European Commission should start thinking about a ban.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

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