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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 19:30 GMT
Germany on alert for E-day fraudsters
Shops in Hamburg
Preparing shops and businesses is a mammoth task
Europe Business correspondent Patrick Bartlett filed this report for BBC World Service's Europe Today

It has been called the biggest logistical challenge faced by Europe in peacetime.

And, perhaps appropriately, they're dubbing it E-Day: 1 January, 2002, the day Euro notes and coins come into circulation in 12 countries.

The statistics are mind-boggling - 56 billion Euro coins and 14-and-a-half billion notes will replace existing national currencies.

The massive change-over programme must be completed in just two months. After that, 300 million citizens will use only Euros.


There's a danger that during the changeover period, large quantities of counterfeit Deutschmarks will be brought into circulation

Lothar Gunther, department store Kaufhaus
At Kaufhof, Germany's biggest department store chain, goods are already priced in both Euros and Deutschmarks. From next New Year's Day, the Deutschmark signs will be no more.

During the two-month change-over, customers will still be able to pay in D-marks, but will only be given Euros in change.

Kaufhof says that at the start of the switchover, each of its stores will need a stock of Euro coins weighing more than a tonne.

Apart from the obvious security risks, staff must also be on high alert for counterfeit money.

Busy sales period

"There's a danger that during the changeover period, large quantities of counterfeit Deutschmarks will be brought into circulation," says Lothar Gunther, the store group's Euro project manager.

"That's because, after 1 March, the only possiblity of changing Deutschmarks will be through the central banks, and they certainly won't be fooled by fake notes.

Central Bank, Frankfurt
The Central Bank is planning to use children to spread the message
"Above all, in January we're very busy, and sales assistants are under pressure to complete each transaction as quickly as possible."

To meet that challenge, from September, Kaufhof - with 120 stores across Germany - will put 15,000 staff through intensive training.

Apart from learning to use complicated cash registers, staff need a detailed understanding of pricing policy.

Millions of machines

In reality, prices converted from Deutschmarks will either be rounded up or down, to the nearest suitable Euro equivalent. Many customers may suspect they are being cheated.

At NSM Music, a company making juke boxes, they are preparing to re-programme 20,000 music machines to accept Euros - just some of the millions of vending machines across Europe which must be recalibrated.


To avoid total confusion, and a potential field-day for fraudsters, it is vital the public can recognise the new currency from day one

Ten per cent of all cash transactions in the Eurozone involve coin machines.

NSM's product development manager, Manfred Schmucker, is worried that the new Euro coins may cause technical problems, and possibly not even be recognised by the electronic coin receptors.

"The two-metal coins are the most problematic. The centre is made of one metal and the outside from another," he says.

"They're pressed together, but after a certain time the resistance between the two metals may change. That could mean that in six months' time, we have to update our programming of the coin receptors all over again. "

Starter kits

At national mints and printing works across the Eurozone, the tightest security surrounds production of the billions of Euro coins and notes.

Not until two weeks before the launch, will consumers be able to buy small starter kits of Euro coins. Euro notes won't be available until E-Day itself.

At the European Central Bank they are preparing a massive Euro information campaign to be launched later this year.


Children can play a very important role disseminating information, to their parents and grandparents, and also their friends at school

Joao de Almeida, European Central Bank
To avoid total confusion, and a potential field-day for fraudsters, it is vital the public can recognise the new currency from day one.

Officials have decided that children may be able to play a key role in the education process, and a website has been set up specifically for them.

"The first of the games has already been uploaded on the website. Children are invited to design their own notes," says Joao de Almeida, the bank's Euro project manager.

"They have the opportunity for a bit of fantasy, but they learn about the currency at the same time. Children can play a very important role disseminating information, to their parents and grandparents, and also their friends at school."

Goods priced in francs and euros
Many customers fear they will be cheated when prices are rounded up or down
But child's play it won't be. Some experts fear the authorities have underestimated just how much can go wrong at street level.

In some countries conversion rates are fiendishly complicated. In Austria, for instance, one Schilling is worth seven hundredths of a Euro.

It is also clear many small retailers have not even begun their Euro preparations.

What is more, the changeover is taking place between Christmas and the January sales, the busiest shopping period of the year.

Europe Today is the World Service's specialist programme for European news - about Europe, from Europe. It's on air at 1700 GMT (1800 CET) from Monday to Friday, on 648 KHz (and on FM in many European cities - check our website for frequencies).

See also:

08 Feb 01 | Business
14 Feb 01 | Europe
30 Oct 99 | Business
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