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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 01:43 GMT
Europe welcomes new cash
Fast-food employee waves euros just after midnight in Torneo, northern Finland
Europeans get their hands on the euro at last
European Union states are celebrating the midnight advent of the euro, described as a "new way of being in Europe" by President Jacques Chirac of France.

Time-zones dictated that France's overseas territories were the first to mark the New Year event, but by 2300 GMT on Monday parties were under way in most of the member-states.

Our continent is now finally asserting its identity and its power

French President Jacques Chirac

A million revellers in the German capital, Berlin, joined celebrations from Madrid to Paris.

But Helsinki and Athens were the first capitals in Europe to uncork the champagne and launch the fireworks.

Finnish Finance Minister Sauli Niinisto made his country's first official purchase with the new cash, using a coin to buy a cup of coffee to ward off the freezing Finnish cold.

Down in the south, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis was heading the queue at a cash-point, donating his crisp new notes to charity.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis with his euros
Another barrier comes down in Europe
"As of today the drachma, our currency since 1833, is replaced by the euro, the currency of a united Europe, one of the strongest currencies in the world," he said at the central bank.

Fireworks lit up the sky above the Greek capital as leaders clinked glasses, and there was music, song and dance across the country.

The Bank of Finland opened its doors at midnight for an hour to let citizens exchange their markka for the new single European currency.

Couples danced outside to accordion music as fireworks streaked through the sky.

Funeral for some

People swarmed into the main boulevards in Berlin's city centre to hear rock bands and watch a laser light show as the temperature dropped to minus five Celsius.
Fireworks light up the Parthenon in Athens
Street parties are under way from Dublin to Brussels

The head of the German central bank, Ernst Welteke, came down to the Brandenburg Gate to ceremoniously hand over a banknote to Finance Minister Hans Eichel.

The event signalled the launch of the currency, although taxi-drivers had been seen giving change in euros a good half-hour before midnight.

In the German town of Gifhorn, the emphasis was on the demise of the German mark.

About 200 people took part in a mock funeral march for the country's trusty old currency.

In France, cash-points in Perpignan seemed determined to cling on to the franc, with the old currency still rolling out after midnight.

Changing hands

Hours earlier in St Denis, the capital of the French island of Reunion in the Indian ocean, Mayor Rene-Paul Victoria went to a local fruit market to buy fruit with a one-euro coin.

He received a discount of a single cent, in surely the first case of haggling in the new currency.

Back in Paris, President Chirac said in a televised address that the euro was a "victory for Europe".

"After a century of strife, of war, of trial and error, our continent is now finally asserting its identity and its power in peace, in unity, and in stability," he said.

The euro was a "new way of being in Europe, of living Europe, a Europe of everyday life which must fully become that of the citizens".

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Europe
Euro chaos threatens France
30 Dec 01 | Europe
Lira noughts will be missed
31 Dec 01 | Business
Europe hails 'historic' euro
31 Dec 01 | Business
Of bus, cow and urine - euro trivia
31 Dec 01 | Europe
In pictures: Coming of the euro
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