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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Belgium pulls out stops for euro
Euro logo in Frankfurt
Cries of alarm will crescendo as E-day draws closer
By Patrick Bartlett in Frankfurt

Among the many urgent dossiers on Belgium's agenda as it celebrates its takeover of the EU presidency is that of steering the eurozone towards changeover day next January.

There are less than six months to go and the task of actually getting the new euro coins and notes to the consumers and businesses in time is a huge one.

A survey shows that one-third of small businesses have yet to prepare for the new currency and 40% of consumers have yet to be convinced of the advantages of the euro.

euro in front of ECB
Consumers will not receive euro notes until 1 January
It is perhaps appropriate that the final preparations for the euro changeover should be overseen by Belgium, that most ardent proponent of European integration.

From September the pace of those preparations will accelerate dramatically. The European Central Bank and national governments in the 12 countries, will launch intensive public awareness campaigns.

Their citizens must be familiarised with both the look of the new notes and coins , and also their value, in relation to existing currencies.

At the same time, shops will start receiving samples of the new currency, so that they can begin training their staff to handle euros.

Price labels must be converted, cash registers updated. Across Europe, millions of vending machines will be re-programmed to accept the new coins.

Chaos fear

As for the public, they will have to wait until mid-December to buy small kits of coins, and under current plans they will not see euro notes until 1 January.

This is controversial. The European Parliament is pressing the Belgian Presidency to distribute notes and coins earlier, fearing a shortage of cash could lead to chaos on New Year's Day.

But the European Central Bank, which has the final say, is adamant.

Because of the risk of counterfeiting, it says, euro notes cannot be issued before they become legal tender.

The argument will not go away. This and other cries of alarm from businesses, consumer groups, banks and others are likely to grow louder as E-Day approaches.

Didier Reynders
Didier Reynders: Euro is top priority
To try to get a grip on the situation, the Belgian presidency has called a special European summit in Ghent in October.

Top of the agenda will be a stock-taking report covering every aspect of the euro changeover.

How many euro notes and coins have been produced? Are security measures sufficient to protect the countless transfers of Euro cash between banks and stores? Have small businesses updated with software? And on and on...

When the Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders, says the Euro changeover will be one of the Belgian presidency's priorities, that might just be an understatement.

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 ON THIS STORY
Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders
"More than two months before the introduction of new coins and new notes we must be sure that it is possible to be ready"
See also:

02 Jul 01 | Europe
Paris gets to know the euro
18 May 01 | Europe
Swiss Alps no barrier to euro
13 Apr 01 | Europe
The euro non-revolution
13 Apr 01 | Europe
Ireland awaits euro price 'rises'
23 Mar 01 | Europe
Money fakers spy a chance
08 Feb 01 | Business
Q&A: Euro basics
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