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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 11:54 GMT
Tales from the eurozone
Eurocash Ireland UK Belgium France Portugal Spain Italy Denmark Germany Austria Greece Sweden Finland Netherlands Luxembourg Click on each country to read its tales from the eurozone

The introduction of the euro as a cash currency on 1 January 2002 will be one of the most complex logistical operations in history. But the unique circumstances of the 12 countries in the eurozone will create different problems in each one - some are serious, others are rather quirky.


If you want to know about preparations for the euro in Austria, ask someone aged between 60 and 75 years old. According to national polls, this age group is the best informed in the country.

Some of the older Austrians have experienced as many as five currency changes in their lifetime.

Hermine Matkovitsch, an 87-year old living in Vienna, is confident she will cope with one more transition. "If you are really daft, the euro changeover may cause a problem, but for anyone with half a brain, it really shouldn't," she says.

Full story: Austria's elderly take to change

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Belgian bargainhunters will have to wait longer before they can spend their cash in the sales next year.

The Belgian government has postponed the January sales for two weeks amid fears that price reductions could further confuse consumers trying to come to terms with the euro.

"You would be advertising in Belgian Francs, also saying what these prices are now in euros, but also the fact they are now 25% or 20% cheaper. It would be a huge mess for the consumer to understand," Baudouin Velge, manager of the economic department of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FBE) said.

Full story: Belgium cancels sales

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Denmark has an opt-out from membership of the euro, endorsed in a referendum, and indeed the country came close to rejecting the Maastricht treaty itself.

The country's scepticism has been fuelled by fears that euro membership would lead to pressure towards dismantling Denmark's generous welfare state, as the eurozone countries have agreed to adhere to strict budget limits.

Although Denmark is fiercely proud of its political independence, and worried about too much interference from Brussels, it is closely integrated economically within the EU.

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As the sun rises on the eastern outreach of Europe on 1 January, Finland will become the first country in the world to introduce euro cash. And yet, paradoxically, the Finns are in no hurry to convert their markka.

Many European countries will switch over their ATMs from midnight on 1 January to dispense the new euros. Finland, however, plans to phase in the euro more slowly.

"Many countries think it is a good thing to convert their ATMs very fast," says Rauno Niininäki, chief of the country's euro project at the Ministry of Finance. "This is a good intention, but in practice it will present some difficulties."

Full story: Finnish 'go-slow' approach

More stories: Lapland laps up the euro

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It's a typical Parisian scene - a customer buying a croissant and a pain au chocolat at one of Paris's oldest bakeries - except for the fact that the change is given not just in francs but also in euros.

Here on the Rue Montorgueil Parisians are getting their first taste of life with the new currency - or at least a fake version of it.

It is a pilot scheme organised between local shop owners and the chamber of commerce.

"It is kind of a sport practice," says Charles Compagnie of the chamber of commerce.

Full story: Paris gets to know the euro

... and yes, France is actually the very first country to launch the euro - in the Department of Reunion, a small island in the Indian Ocean.

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Mr Bartosch works for a small delicatessen and catering business in the Bavarian town of Weiden.

He recently tried to order several bags of his favourite coffee from Illy, an Italian company based in Trieste.

But ordering was not as straightforward as it used to be. The new price lists are all in euros. The Deutschmark has disappeared.

The changeover to the euro will be a challenge, both for retailers and their customers.

Full story: A challenge for German shoppers and retailers

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With the changeover to the euro only weeks away, efforts are being made to explain the new currency in many European countries.

In Greece, cash registers and bank accounts automatically give euro and drachma prices, but government officials admit their own campaign might have fallen short.

So private individuals have taken it upon themselves to do the explaining.

And it has been the churches that have taken the lead in the some of the remote islands in the Aegean Sea.

Full story: Greeks learn to love the euro

More stories: Corfu's expats split on euro

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In Rome's colourful Campo dei Fiori, the market traders are getting rather hot under the collar.

They are beginning to worry about the complexities of converting lira into euro. "For us, it will be more difficult. For a kilo, it's okay, but for 300 grams... we'll have to make impossible calculations," says Andrea Trovalucci, a fruit and vegetable seller.

Meanwhile in Milan, designers, such as Gucci, are working frantically to redesign wallets and trouser pockets to fit the new currency. "[Trouser] pockets will be more strong and resistant," explains Giancarlo Del Bufalo, head of the country's Euro Committee, although he is not betting on a boom in trouser sales.

Full story: Italian confusion

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The Irish love both to use and hoard coins more than many other countries in the European Union.

This is set to create a huge problem for the European Central Bank when euro notes and coins are launched next year.

Not only is it a big job to get the old coins back in, but the Irish will have to produce far more euro coins per capita than its European Union counterparts to feed demand for coins.

Full story: Irish love of coins

More stories: Ireland eases into euros
Bookies worry about the punt

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Luxembourg is in a unique position among eurozone countries. Its currency is already linked to the Belgian franc in a currency union that goes back many years.

Luxembourg has benefited as a location that has attracted many other Europeans for its cheap shopping and a variety of financial services.

But Luxembourg has revealed that it was prepared to break up its monetary union with Belgium when the European monetary system suffered from turbulence in l992-93.

The news came as Luxembourg said it was now destroying its secret stock of notes and coins that had been prepared for the past twenty years in the case of a break-up.

Full story: Luxembourg's secret euro plan

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The famously laid back Dutch are facing the approach of the euro with typical calm.

Despite having the most ambitious programme in Europe for integrating the new currency, they're anticipating few problems.

The Dutch have given themselves just 28 days to take the guilder out of circulation, in contrast to the two months allowed in most other countries.

Full story: The Netherland's laid-back approach

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Bringing in a new currency here is a challenge that requires a very special approach. And the Portuguese government has found one.

At the end of a very traditional Catholic Mass in the small town of Artes, not far from the Spanish border, Padre Manuel Horacio Gomes puts down his bible and picks up several cardboard cut out Euro notes and coina.

After celebrating their faith, the congregation of mainly elderly women is being given a quick lesson in the currency that is about to replace the escudo.

It is a unique and effective part of a government campaign designed to prepare rural Portugal for the launch of the new currency.

Full story: Portugal's priests boost the euro

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In recent years, Spain has enjoyed a housing boom and anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more of these second homes are being bought by people needing to get rid of black money before the euro arrives.

Suitcases of pesetas and deutschmarks and francs are being handed over for cars, television and especially property before the euro renders these currencies obsolete in January next year.

Of the estimated £250bn worth of black money floating around the EU, about £40bn is in Spanish pockets.

Full story: Spanish housing boom

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Sweden is not in the eurozone - even though it did not negotiate an opt-out from the Maastricht Treaty and its provisions for the single currency.

Nevertheless, Swedish politicians are finding it difficult to convince voters to like the euro.

A referendum has been promised, but despite the strong support from the business community, there are doubts whether the country will endorse membership.

Meanwhile, the Swedish currency, the krona, has come under pressure on international currency markets, and Sweden has fallen behind its Scandanavian neighbors in the economic league tables.

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There is a fierce debate in the United Kingdom about the benefits of euro membership, with the public growing increasingly sceptical.

The Conservatives secured an opt-out from the single currency at Maastricht when they were in power.

The Labour government's position is that it is in favour of membership if certain key economic tests are met - including the effect of euro membership on jobs, foreign investment, and the UK's financial sector.

But it will not announce whether those tests are met until the spring of 2003 at the latest - in time to see whether the introduction of euro cash has gone smoothly.

Pro-European campaigners are hoping that the appearance of euro notes on the Continent will help win over the public.

Full story: UK debate heats up

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