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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 22:14 GMT
Europe readies for 'historic' euro
Wim Duisenberg - president of European Central Bank
Wim Duisenberg: "Dawn of a new era"
With less than an hour before euro notes and coins replace national currencies in most EU member states, Europeans have been readying themselves for the biggest monetary changeover in history.


By using the euro notes and coins we give a clear signal of the hope we have in tomorrow's Europe

Wim Duisenberg
ECB president

In Finland and Greece - both one hour ahead of Central European Time - euro cash has already become legal tender, at midnight local time (2200 GMT).

Cash machines in the other 10 countries are due to start issuing the new notes at 2300 GMT.

The event has already been hailed by European leaders as starting a new chapter in the continent's history.

The euro will arrive in...
Austria
Belgium
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Ireland
Italy
Luxemburg
Netherlands
Portugal
Spain
European Commission President Romano Prodi said the currency would be an instrument of economic stability and growth across Europe.

"Today is a very special day, a great day for Europe," he said.

"Only a few years ago the euro was a dream, but now we have made it a reality."

The president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, said the launch represented the dawn of a new era.

"By using the euro notes and coins we give a clear signal of the confidence and hope we have in tomorrow's Europe," he said.

Three EU states have chosen to keep out of the euro - Britain, Sweden and Denmark - but Mr Duisenberg urged them to "come and join us".

The European Commissioner responsible, Pedro Solbes, said 6 billion notes and 37 billion coins, with a total value of 144 billion euros ($130bn, 90bn) had been circulated to banks and shops.

In circulation
6 billion notes
37 billion coins
150 million starter kits
He said there had been fewer robberies than usual, despite the enormous amounts of cash being transported.

He urged citizens to be on their guard for counterfeit notes of both old and new currencies, saying that more fake old notes were in circulation than in previous years.

Celebrations are due across the 12 states:

  • In Frankfurt a 15-metre-high euro sign outside the European Central Bank will be illuminated at midnight
  • In Dublin, people are being asked to parade in costumes based on euro notes or coins
  • Paris is illuminating its oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, with the colours of the euro and the EU
  • In Vienna, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Mr Prodi plan to buy flowers for their wives with the new cash

The euro states prepared for the step with extensive public awareness campaigns and "starter packs" of notes and coins which were released in recent weeks.

German sausage
Germans can already get their teeth into a euro - albeit a sausage one

But Mr Duisenberg admitted that there had been and would continue to be teething problems, but he said he was convinced that the problems would be limited "in time and in scope".

The BBC's Europe business correspondent, Patrick Bartlett, says public confusion is very likely in the early stages, with states trading in both their old and new currencies simultaneously for up to two months.

Euro conversion rates
Austrian schilling: 13.76
Belgian franc: 40.3399
Dutch guilder: 2.20371
Finnish markka: 5.94573
French franc: 6.55957
German mark: 1.95583
Greek drachma: 340.75
Irish punt: 0.787564
Italian lira: 1936.27
Portuguese escudo: 200.482
Spanish peseta: 166.386
Retailers are supposed to accept both, but give change in euros only - a costly, inconvenient process.

Mr Solbes said the EU had found dual pricing to be accurate in 95% of cases.

He warned businesses against using the euro launch to raise prices - and praised Germany for systematically rounding prices down.

Meanwhile the euro strengthened in international currency markets ahead of the launch, reaching a two-year high against the yen and rising nearly 1% against the US dollar to end at $0.89 for the day.

Challenges

Each country has its own difficulties to overcome:

  • In Germany, a legal loophole has led some shopkeepers to threaten to refuse Deutschmarks after New Year's Day
  • Dutch media are reporting that prices could run up to 35% higher after the introduction of the euro
  • In France, the euro was accidentally launched three days early by a cash point which erroneously started spewing out the new notes
  • French and Italian bank workers are threatening to strike on 2 January due to the extra workload created by the changeover
  • In Italy, three times as much cash has been withdrawn as normal over the past few days, due to fears that cash machines will go wrong

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Webb
"A milestone in European history"
The BBC's Janet Barrie reports from Brussels
"This massive logistical operation seems to have gone relatively smoothly"
EU Monetary Commissioner Pedro Solbez
"The euro is already the second currency in the world"
See also:

31 Dec 01 | Europe
In pictures: Coming of the euro
20 Dec 01 | Europe
Euro chaos threatens France
14 Dec 01 | Business
Paris rush for euro-starter kits
29 Dec 01 | Europe
Mini-states gear up for euro
30 Dec 01 | Europe
Lira noughts will be missed
31 Dec 01 | Business
Q&A: Euro cash launch
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