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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 18:28 GMT
Of bus, cow and urine - euro trivia
Euro coins
After three years of practice, euro currency is finally a reality
Amidst the official furore surrounding the launch of the euro, it's easy to lose track of the details. So here we offer a few of the more irrelevant sides of the euro launch...

Top deck

Britain may be staying out of the euro for the moment, but a sizeable slice of British heritage played a role in launching the new currency.

A Routemaster double-decker bus was chosen to drive around Europe in 1998 as a publicity stunt, strategically repainted from traditional red to blue and yellow.

The change in colour scheme was enough to enrage Eurosceptics in the UK.

What's in a name?

The choice of name caused friction in and of itself.

Europe's policy-makers went through virtually every monetary name in the continent's history, with early favourites such as the florin and the schilling failing to make the cut.

The Bundesbank HQ advertises the euro
The Bundesbank in Frankfurt advertises the euro

More controversial, though, was the "ecu", or European currency unit, the name for the basket of European currencies used for official EU purposes.

Inoffensive though it may have seemed, the Germans protested that it sounded too much like "kuh", or cow.

And in any case the ecu had been a French currency, a coin 40mm across and minted of solid silver, in the 18th century.

"Euro" - widely judged to be a boring lowest common denominator - only came into its own as the least offensive option much later.

Taking the...

It may have been judged the least offensive option, but that could not stop the Greeks from getting worried.

After all, the word is very similar to that for urine in Greek.

They were only slightly mollified by British officials who pointed out that the penny had been nicknamed "pee" - a mild slang term for the same thing - for decades with no noticeable ill-effects.

Locked down

As for the physical currency itself, the task of delivery must rank as the biggest security headache in history.

A security van delivering euro notes and coins in Germany|
Not always as secure as the ECB would hope...

More than 10bn notes and 52bn coins - to the value of 664bn euros - have been distributed.

Not without incident. Robberies have taken place in Italy, France and Germany, with one German security guard robbing his own van.

And a strike at the French mint producing the currency was only settled after the intervention of riot police.

Sucking it up

It is not only security firms that are having trouble.

The Coca-Cola corporation has nearly 300,000 vending machines across the continent.

Only 46,000 of these are ready for tomorrow's launch - the rest, the company says, will be fixed by the time each country gives up in turn on its old currency.

The German tobacco industry has done rather better.

The 830,000 cigarette machines that sit on street-corners across the country were all said to be ready for business in both euro and mark from 1 January.

Overstretched

And how to design a currency to satisfy 12 different traditions and cultures?

The European Central Bank took the decision to avoid specific images, settling instead for generic pictures of bridges and doorways - symbolising, so the theory went, the transition to one big, happy European family.

Not quite generic enough, though, as it turned out.

One note had to be redesigned when it proved in fact to be a real bridge. And not from Europe, but from India.

Early adopters

The earliest official use of the euro, though, predates its release on the continent by more than 11 hours.

New Zealand's associate minister of finance, Trevor Mallard, buys euros at 1101 GMT on 31 December
Euros: available 11 hours ahead of time in New Zealand

New Zealand is 13 hours ahead of GMT, and at a minute past midnight - in other words, 1100 GMT on 31 January - its associate finance minister exchanged NZ$ for euros at Wellington International Airport.

Next up is the island of Reunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean - followed by Finland and Greece.

And outside the European Union itself, countries including Montenegro and Kosovo will also be adopting the euro as their sole legal tender to replace the Deutschmark.

In demand

One side-effect of getting rid of 12 currencies simultaneously is an upsurge in interest in numismatics, or coin-collecting.

Britain's switch to a decimal system in 1971 triggered a massive boost to the old coin market, and this changeover seems to be doing much the same.

Experts say some prices for old coins are up 30-40% on the year.

Not amused

Europhobia, as well as its more moderate cousin euroscepticism, remains rife in the UK.

But that is not stopping stores across the country from choosing to accept the new currency - including Dixons, whose chairman Sir Stanley Kalms is one of the euro's most vigorous opponents.

One significant retailer, however, is staying above the fray.

Shops at Buckingham Palace, the primary residence of the British Royal Family, will not accept euros - although the palace insists the move is "purely a business decision" and in no way indicates anti-European sentiment.


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31 Dec 01 | Business
20 Dec 01 | Europe
14 Dec 01 | Business
29 Dec 01 | Europe
30 Dec 01 | Europe
31 Dec 01 | Business
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