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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 10:18 GMT
Austria's elderly know their euros
Street scene in Vienna
Austrians are curious about the new euro currency
by BBC News Online's Emma Clark

If you want to know about preparations for the euro in Austria, ask someone aged between 60 and 75 years old.

Silhouette of an elderly person being helped
The elderly are better informed than the young
According to national polls, this age group is the best informed in the country.

"They are better informed than the young ones," says Alfred Schelz, director of cash management at the Austrian National Bank.

"They are interested in the subject, have a lot of time and access to a lot of information."

Five changeovers

Some of the older people are also unique in that they have lived through numerous currency changes in Austria.

Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna
In the Hapsburg reign, the kronen was used
"The change to the euro is not a big deal, really, because the Austrians are used to changing their national currency," Hermine Matkovitsch, an 87-year old, told BBC News Online.

"In my lifetime, the national currency has changed five times."

During the reign of the Hapsburg dynasty and around World War I, the country used kronen (crown).

Austrian schillings
Schillings was first introduced before the war
The current day schillings were introduced during the interwar period of the first republic.

However, after annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, the country was forced to abandon its own currency for the Deutsche mark.

The Austrian schilling was finally re-introduced following the end of World War II and is now to be succeeded by the euro.

Bitter experience

Although Ms Matkovitsch is fairly stoical about the introduction of the euro, Mr Schelz says that some older people are wary.


If you talk to elderly people, many may remember their experiences of hyperinflation and demonetisations during other times

Alfred Schelz
Austrian National Bank
"If you talk to elderly people, many may remember their experiences of hyperinflation and demonetisations during other times," he says.

"But this time there is a big difference. It is simply an exchange and there won't be further consequences on prices."

Broad campaign

The country has launched a broad campaign to education the people and assure them of a smooth transition.

"The government has been educating people on TV constantly," says Ms Matkovitsch, adding that she has been given a conversion table and a calculator to convert schillings into euros.


If you are really daft, the changeover may cause a problem, but for anyone with half a brain, it really shouldn't

Hermine Matkovitsch
an 87-year old
Ms Matkovitsch's state pension is converted automatically into euro and all she has do is convert the cash she has.

"If you are really daft, the changeover may cause a problem, but for anyone with half a brain, it really shouldn't," she concludes.

Negative sentiment

Although there does seem to be some curiosity in the country about the new currency, Austria has felt sidelined by the European Union in recent times.

Joerg Haider, former leader of Austria's Freedom Party
Sanctions were resented after the success of the Freedom Party
Support for the EU dropped to an all-time low last year after other European states imposed sanctions on Austria for five months.

The countries were protesting at the entry of the far-right Freedom Party into Austria's coalition government.

In May, Austrian resentment was revived after Italy's new right-wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi won in general elections.

"There was not the same reaction from the EU when Berlusconi got elected," notes one Austrian.

Leakages

Nevertheless, Mr Schelz says that most Austrians accept the euro.

"I am very positive, the campaign seems to have been well done and we have not experienced any mistakes."

The only fehltritt (faux pas) that has been committed was the leaking of euros ahead of time.

In October, Austria admitted that some euro notes and coins were circulating two months early.

"A German tourist recently presented a real euro note to pay for purchases at Vienna airport," says Stefan Augustin, head of the body responsible for distributing the euro in Austria.

There have been other cases as well, where a Viennese internet company sent out press releases attached to a genuine one-cent coin.

Counterfeiting concerns

Clearly, as banks and businesses receive cash ready for the launch in January, some of the money is finding its way into the pockets of workers and customers.

Austrian Parliament
Authorities are concerned that leaks could confuse the public
The European authorities are concerned that such leakages could confuse the public or give organised crime groups an advantage in counterfeiting the euro.

"There is a greater risk of counterfeiting because it gives them time to prepare for it," says Malcolm Levitt, a senior European adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Curiosity factor

Nevertheless, Mr Augustin says the leaks were small and "not a great tragedy."

And as he points out, "the fact that people are impatient to get hold of the new currency is a sign that they are interested in it".

Certainly for the younger generation, who have only known the schilling, the euro promises opportunities.

And, at the very least, it will make holidays in two of Austria's many neighbours - Germany and Italy - that much easier.

See also:

23 Oct 01 | Business
Dutch plan euro giveaway
08 Oct 01 | Europe
Sorry saga of Euro showpiece
05 Oct 01 | Business
ECB calls for more euro bills
02 Oct 01 | Business
Blair sounds a pro-euro note
29 Aug 01 | Business
Euro launch lifts security firms
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Austria
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