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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 02:18 GMT
Euro cash switch hailed a success
A Frankfurt man tries to pay for a hot dog with a 50-euro note
Change is running short as small traders cope with the big notes
The European Commission says that the introduction of new euro notes and coins has gone smoothly during the first day of their becoming legal tender in more than a dozen European countries.

In circulation
Six billion notes
37 billion coins
150 million starter kits
More than 300 million people road-tested the new common currency on Tuesday, but the main test will come on Wednesday as shops and larger businesses reopen after the New Year's Day public holiday.

Despite teething troubles as some small retailers found themselves short of change, the reaction has been generally positive.

Belgium reported 600 withdrawals a minute from cash machines in the first two hours of 2002, while Italians had withdrawn more than a million banknotes by midday.

Paris street with festive euro decorations
France said adieu to the franc after 600 years
Business was also brisk at French cash machines.

"There are vastly more withdrawals than is usually the case for January 1. Over one million euro notes will be dispensed by the end of the day," said French Banking Federation spokesman Pierre Simon.

Across Europe, people were coming to terms with a brand new currency.

"It doesn't look real. It's small, isn't it? It's a funny colour. It doesn't smell like money," said Kieran O'Brien, a tourist in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam.

Marion Bader, who withdrew euros from her bank in Frankfurt, said she had taken the money out just to see what it looked like.

"We're not all that worried about spending them. We're going to pay it all back in tomorrow," she said.

All change

Most of the countries within the eurozone will continue to allow old coinage to be used until the end of February.

Euro 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
Much of the money passing from shoppers' hands on Tuesday was old currency - meaning arithmetic troubles for the retailers who are now meant to deliver change in euros.

In Italy - having to deal with single-digit prices for the first time in decades - 50 euro ($45, 30) notes were being used to buy cups of coffee, raising fears that change would run out.

Other problems reported included over-zealous forgery detection equipment - and, in a few cases, trouble where shopkeepers had managed to leave their carefully-hoarded stock of euros at home.

On the map

Elsewhere the political implications of the euro, the European Union's most ambitious integrationist policy, were being mulled by those changing their cash.

"Our pound was always insignificant, irrelevant, unrecognised in the world," said Gerry Duggan at Dublin International Airport, clutching a handful of new euro notes.

ECB bank chief Wim Duisenberg
Wim Duisenberg: dawn of a new era
"This right here puts us on the map."

EU leaders believe the launch of the euro notes and coins will strengthen economic and political cooperation across the eurozone.

They also hope it will lead to a higher external value of the currency - currently well below its initial value when it was introduced in 1999 as an electronic currency.

On Monday, the euro strengthened in international currency markets, reaching a two-year high against the yen and rising nearly 1% against the dollar although it remains 25% lower than three years ago.

At the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, officials lit a huge blue euro symbol.

Wim Duisenberg, the bank's president, said the launch represented the dawn of a new era, and he urged the three EU states that have chosen to keep out of the euro - Denmark, Sweden and the UK - to "come and join us".

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The acid test is today"
European Commission President Romano Prodi
"I am convinced that the euro will be a success"
Irish PM Bertie Ahern
"It has already been a tremendous success"

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02 Jan 02 | UK Politics
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