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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Euro awareness is weak, say critics
Euro bags
On 1 January, inhabitants of 12 European countries will have new notes and coins in their pockets. But many fear governments and business groups have not done enough to raise awareness of the unfamiliar money. In the first of our special series on the euro changeover, the BBC's Rebecca Pike reports from France.

It's the middle of August, and most Parisians have gone south, but the family-run Collet boulangerie is buzzing.

A steady queue for baguettes is rapidly dispatched by Fabrice Collet, who slaps change on the counter without looking.

But in less than five months everything will be different.

"We will have to have two tills, one for each currency, for the first few weeks," he said.

"The queues will be long, and people will be confused. Even though I've put euro prices in my shop, all they are interested in is the prices in francs."

One in three not ready

The Collets' experience is typical, in a country traditionally resistant to change.

But compared with many businesses they are well prepared.

According to Arnaldo Abruzzini, secretary general of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, up to one-third of small and medium sized businesses have done nothing for the run-up to January.

"We need to get them more involved," he said.

Complicated change

France's attitude to the euro changeover is complicated by two things.

Many older French people still work in the old currency before the last conversion in 1960.

The euro will confuse them still further.

And the exchange rate is 6.55957 francs to the euro - not easy to work out how much a baguette would cost in euros.

Last week we tested the level of public awareness on a small but representative group of shoppers.

Out of a straw poll of around 20, half knew what one euro was worth in francs.

But only one person could work out how much a baguette would actually cost - we later discovered he worked for the local chamber of commerce.

Involve the people

This head-in the sand attitude is worrying political leaders, like the President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine.

In an interview at her holiday villa in Nice, she said people still needed to be encouraged to become more actively involved.

"Today, perhaps because there is no going back, nobody thinks that it is necessary to explain again why the adoption of the euro is a positive move," she said.

"It is important that people accept willingly the little problems that are going to arise. We are going to help them solve these but if we want them to accept these problems we have to remind them of the meaning of the euro."

Lise

But the man behind the advertising campaign to persuade French people to accept the euro is relaxed.

Maurice Levy, chairman of Publicis, is responsible for Lise, the young girl often seen on the nation's television screens demonstrating that the changeover won't be as complicated as many people think.

He thinks too much information too early would be a big turn-off.

"What we see is that interest is growing as the time is passing. We have to be quite close to the moment of the change in order to get the attention of the consumer. So I think the timing was right."

The next few months will see the campaign being intensified in the media.

It's likely though that the public won't sit up and take notice until it really matters - on the first of January.

Click below for background and analysis on Europe's single currency

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14 Aug 01 | Business
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