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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 15:39 GMT
Euro's arrival at a glance
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 was one of the most complex logistical operations in history. Some 6 billion euro notes and 40 billion coins have been distributed around Europe since midnight on Monday.


Austria's central bank was full of optimism first thing on Wednesday.

"It is going excellently in Austria," said National Bank director Wolfgang Duchatczek, 36 hours after euro cash was introduced.

"Our figures currently show that the schilling will very rapidly disappear from the economy."

But at 1400GMT on Wednesday all of Austria's cash dispensers ceased to function, due to a computer error that - it was claimed - was unrelated to the high volume of transactions on the first working day of the new currency.

By the end of the day service was restored and virtually all of the country's cash dispensers were offering euro banknotes again.

Ironically, it was Austria where European Commission President Romano Prodi and the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, first used euros to buy flowers for their wives at midnight on Monday after attending a performance at the Vienna State Opera.

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Belgium, home of the European Commission, was one of the few places where consumers were reported to have rushed to withdraw euros from cash machines as soon as the currency became legal tender.

The country reported 600 cash withdrawals per minute in the first two hours of 2002.

By late afternoon on Tuesday, about 320,000 withdrawals were made for a total of 26.5m euros ($23.3m).

Finance Minister Didier Reynders said he hoped Belgians would use the euro for all cash transactions by the middle of January.

"If we can switch as soon as possible to the euro, it would simplify life for everybody," he said.

"What's needed now is for minds to get used to abandoning the national currency as quickly as possible."

Mr Reynders was among the first Belgians to withdraw some euros.

"I'm going to start by buying myself a Belgian beer," he said as he withdrew 150 euros ($133) from a Fortis bank branch.

It was reported that the Commission's own bar had run out of euros by lunchtime on Tuesday.

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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.

However, many of the shops in the country are accepting payment in euros.

A recent survey by Danish Commerce and Services, an employer's organisation, found that one in 10 shops also plan to mark prices in euros as well as kroner.

The fact that the kroner is part of the European exchange rate mechanism will limit currency fluctuations and probably facilitate "euro-creep".

In the past, the country's scepticism has been fuelled by fears that euro membership could lead to a dismantling of 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, it is closely integrated economically within the EU.

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Finland became one of the first countries in Europe, along with Greece, to introduce euro cash.

In the early morning on Tuesday, hundreds of people lined up outside Bank of Finland branches.

In the north of the country, where the population is more resistant to European influences, the euro was received with minimal fuss.

"This is like Monopoly money and I feel like I got very little change back," said a young Finnish man, celebrating the New Year at a bar in Ruka ski resort.

"But I'll get used to it."

Dmitri, a tourist arriving from Russia by train, said: "We'd vaguely heard about this European money but thought it was all happening later, that it was just some kind of far-off dream."

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The euro faced its first road bump in France following industrial action on Wednesday, the first real business day since euro cash launched.

But French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said the strikes by banks and post offices over pay have had a limited effect.

"Symbolically it is good that a sense of responsibility has prevailed," Mr Fabius said.

"Let me take the case of a bank or savings bank employee who has a little baby.

"In a few years' time the baby will have grown and will say to him, 'Really, that's great, you were there when the euro was introduced... What did you do?'

"And if he answers 'I was on strike', then that's really rather poor."

Meanwhile, France's Liberation daily newspaper said the euro launch went "without a hitch", and business daily Les Echos reported: "The euro survives its baptism of fire."

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The first euro forgery was detected in Germany on Thursday.

Police said a 12-year-old girl spotted a fake 50 euro note and handed it to them in Siegburg, near Bonn.

Later, a man was revealed to have obtained almost 1,000 Deutschmarks in coins in a casino by using a faked 500 euro note made from photos stuck back to back.

Earlier, in Munich, a BBC News Online reporter had found that hundreds of people were determined to change their Deutschmarks into euros.

Pensioners on Wednesday queued up with other citizens at the Sparkasse in the centre of Munich just off the historic city hall.

At the Augustiner Bierhalle, one of Munich's venerable beer halls, waitresses were under pressure as they grappled with unfamiliar prices in euros.

Thirsty Munich citizens and tourists found themselves waiting longer than usual to order a beer, a pretzel and a pair of Munich's famous veal sausages.

A few German retailers have caused controversy by refusing to accept Deutschmarks following the changeover.

This is despite a commitment by German retailing organisations to accept Deutschmarks two months into the changeover period.

Because of a legal quirk, Germany is the only country where the old "legacy currency" ceased to be legal tender at midnight, 31 December 2001.

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A gunman in an Athens suburb took advantage of the euro launch to hold up a Post Office Savings Bank on Wednesday.

He made off with 76,000 euros ($68,400) in Europe's first major robbery of the new currency since it went into circulation at the start of the year.

Another Athenian, buying a cheese pie on Wednesday, found herself being served by three members of staff - to handle the request, work out the cost and double check the change.

Elsewhere in Athens, many Greeks were continuing to use the drachma, Europe's oldest currency.

A young man, paying for a newspaper in drachmas on Tuesday, admitted: "It's the first day and I didn't think to use our euro coins."

Greece is said to be one of the least-prepared countries to use euro cash.

Only 50,000 small businesses from a total of 300,000 had been supplied with euros, according to the Economy Ministry.

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The true test of euro cash came on Wednesday, as year-end sales get underway in the shops.

Consumer Affairs Minister Tom Kitt said a team of inspectors would be on duty to "keep an eye on the way in which retailers have converted prices to the new currency".

Hundreds of Dubliners queued outside the central bank for their chance to change punts into euros on Tuesday.

The queue stretched out of the doors of the bank, down the steps, across the square and around the corner onto the street.

"It does show that people are keen to get their hands on the euro," said Neil Whoriskey, a central bank spokesman.

It might have had something to do with the free hot whisky on offer too.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern made his first euro purchase on Tuesday morning at a newsagent in his Dublin Central constituency.

He described the euro's arrival as "a great achievement".

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A strike by trade unions at Italy's central bank on the first working day since the introduction of the euro, had little impact on the launch.

Within the first 12 hours of the new currency's existence, 750,000 Italians and foreign tourists had the new banknotes in their pockets.

On Wednesday, some banks and post offices in Rome were even reported to be running out of euro banknotes.

This was after Italians rushed to withdraw the new currency on the first day of business since the New Year.

There were also massive queues on the roads going into Rome as toll booths struggled to cope with the new currency.

At a pharmacy on Via Gambero in Rome, customers were paying in lire only, forcing the staff to convert back from euro prices.

"It's a bit chaotic," said pharmacist Roberta Panocchi, trying to figure out the lire equivalent for a tube of toothpaste labelled in euros.

But in terms of actual cash transactions, Italy was well behind other countries of the eurozone, the European Commission said.

Only 3% of cash transactions were made in euros compared with almost 50% in the Netherlands.

The delays in distribution of the Italian euro pennies forced the Vatican to postpone the minting of its own 670,000 euro coins until next month.

"There are some technical problems... first they have to get the Italian euro in circulation, then comes the Vatican euro," a Holy See spokesman said.

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Banks did their best to persuade customers to swap Luxembourg francs into euros by wooing them with free champagne and orange juice on Tuesday.

However, few Luxembourgers rushed to queue up in the New Year's cold at 59 designated bank branches.

"We're mostly seeing some merchants coming to get their euro kits," said the manager of a Dexia Bil bank branch.

Luxembourg was alone among eurozone states in organising no special festivities to celebrate the advent of the euro.

Luxembourg's inhabitants can now look forward to simplified financial dealings.

For years, the country has juggled a currency union with Belgium as well as widespread use of the French franc and Deutschmark.

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker recently said he expected no hitch to the currency swaps, partly because Luxembourgers had little "sentimental or erotic attachment" to their own currency.

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The changeover in the Netherlands was almost flawless, reports said.

On Tuesday, almost 2.5 million Dutch people withdrew euros from cash dispensers.

Only Prime Minister Wim Kok seemed to be holding back.

He said he would spend his last guilders before switching to the new cash.

"All in good time," Mr Kok said as he strolled through Maastricht, where the Netherlands staged its national welcome party for the euro.

The city greeted the arrival of the euro with a pageant that included acrobats performing from a large artificial "eurotree".

Virtually all of the cash dispensers in the Netherlands were providing euro banknotes by the end of the first day of its entry into circulation.

"There were big queues at cash machines but it was very jolly, with champagne," said a Dutch central bank spokeswoman.

"More euro money has been distributed that what has ever been in circulation in guilders," added Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm.

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Portugal has experienced a fairly smooth transition to euro cash.

Euros are expected to be phased in at all cash dispensers by 4 January, with almost half offering the new currency on Tuesday.

"Our staff have been trained and we will have additional staff on hand in the check-out areas to help cope with managing two currencies and clearing up any doubts," said a spokeswoman at Portuguese supermarket Jeronimo Martins.

But at one of the few bakers open on the New Year holiday, customers continued to pay in escudos and received their change in the same currency.

Some taxi operators and small businesses were reported to be giving back change in both euros and escudos, against government recommendations.

Most of the local newspapers heralded the new single currency as a success.

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The Spanish withdrew 2.5b euros during the first two days of circulation of the common currency, the Spanish Banking Association said.

The average amount changed by banks was 400 euros compared with 100 euros withdrawn from cash machines.

Many of the purchases made in Spain's small shops were still being made in pesetas on Wednesday morning.

"Two thirds of purchases were made in pesetas and the rest in euros," said Miguel Angel Fraile, a spokesman for the Spanish retailer's confederation.

"Early in the day it is mostly for small purchases like bread and newspapers that people are paying for in pesetas.

"We think the trend will change in the next few days and that the euro will be used for most purchases."

Bank branches in Madrid remained crowded on Wednesday, with customers waiting 40 minutes to change their pesetas for euros.

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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.

Although Swedish politicians are finding it difficult to convince voters to like the euro, there was some excitement in Stockholm.

"We had a long line of customers this morning waiting outside our bureau de change to get euros," said Veronica Hamming, foreign exchange manager at Stockholm department store NK.

"They were very excited."

Speculation on Wednesday that the country may soon hold a referendum on joining the eurozone helped to boost the Swedish krona.

The expectation is that the country would join the euro at a level above its current one, said analysts.

Prime Minister Goran Persson sparked the speculation by saying that a referendum on joining the euro in the autumn of 2002 could not be excluded.

The local currency hit 20-week highs in morning trading, before easing slightly.

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Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, now finds itself surrounded by four states in which the euro notes and coins have started circulating.

In an effort to remain open to foreign visitors, two big Swiss banks - Credit Suisse and UBS - have set up cash machines dispensing euro notes as well as Swiss francs.

The national railrway company also reported that several hundred people lined up at exchange offices in Zurich and Basel after midnight on Monday to sample the new money.

In some of the country's ski resorts, tourists and local account holders are already able to choose whether they prefer to make their withdrawals in euros or francs.

Several Swiss supermarket chains have said they are happy to accept euros from customers.

Hotels, bars and restaurants in tourist resorts are displaying prices in francs and euros.

Switzerland's neighbours believe it is only a matter of time before the euro becomes a parallel currency.

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There is a fierce debate in the UK 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.

Enthusiasm for the euro on Wednesday saw the pound record its largest ever one-day fall against the euro.

Shoppers on London's Oxford Street had the opportunity to pay for purchases in euros at most high-street stores, but very few took advantage of it.

"I don't want to lose the pound and I'm angry that shops are letting customers use the euro," said Laura Hughes, aged 17.

"I think it's inevitable that we will lose the pound if businesses are letting it (the euro) creep in."

Europe Minister Peter Hain told the BBC on Tuesday that Britain risks losing its position as a "decisive" European power if it rules out membership of the euro.

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