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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 23:00 GMT
Spanish reserve over the euro
Laura Escudra and Ivan Cobos
Neither of these Spanish sceptics knows the cost of bread in euros
By BBC News Online's Sheila Barter on the French-Spanish border

High in the foothills of the eastern end of the Pyrenees, where France and Spain meet, bureaux de change are selling what must be their own death warrants.


We wanted to keep the peseta, but the government decided without putting it to a vote

Laura Escudra
The euro is for sale here, where the E15 motorway links the Mediterranean neighbours in an isolated and windswept pass.

By the end of February, drivers will have no more francs or pesetas to spend, and no need to exchange here.

There will be no other reason to stop. There are no shops here, no petrol, no cafe.

Crossing the French-Spanish border was already simply a matter of slowing down to pass the police controls, where passports are not asked for and no officials are even visible.

Motorway toll sign with euro prices
Motorway toll sign with euro prices hastily stuck on
Now a relaxed border crossing links two countries with the same currency. It's a new and strange experience.

Driving between them, you wonder whether the border will eventually cease to have any real significance at all.

You pay your motorway toll in euros on both sides, almost expecting one side or the other to reject the crisp new notes and the shiny coins.

But no - both sides are doing business - although queues build up as drivers wrestle with their sums and fumble with their new coins.

Across the border

One currency it may be, but different attitudes appear to persist across the Pyrenean divide.

On the French side, it's hard to find anyone who will admit to the slightest reservation about the switch. Either they all share the euro-vision, or they're very good at pretending.

But in Spain it seems to be a rather different story.

Driving down from the A9 pass, and across a Catalan plain dotted with olive groves and woodland, the first Spanish town of any size you reach is Figueres.

Dali museum in Figueres
Dali museum in Figueres
Salvador Dali is its most famous son, and a museum in his honour has pride of place in the town centre.

Narrow streets radiate from the plane-tree-lined main square, and the biggest tapas bar is packed.

The waiter brings the bill in pesetas only, and visibly recoils when he is offered euros. He insists he is too busy to discuss his opinion of the new currency, but as the calculator is brought into active service for possibly the first time that day, it doesn't take much guessing.

Outside, taxi drivers smoking and shuffling in the cold say they have not so much as sniffed a euro in their first day's business.

Even those residents broadly in favour of the euro are prepared to discuss its down-sides.

"Some prices including some wines and children's toys have gone up by 20-30% since summer, ahead of the euro's introduction," says Maria Jose Sans, who generally welcomes the currency.

Other residents hint at a loss of national identity, and you don't have to look far to find outright critics.

"I prefer the peseta - it's easier," says young mother Laura Escudra, out walking with partner Ivan Cobos and their baby daughter.

"We wanted to keep the peseta, but the government decided without putting it to a vote.

"Yes the euro's more convenient for travelling, but for us it's difficult."

Neither knows the cost of a loaf of bread in euros - a test passed earlier by some, but not all, French shoppers.

Another Spanish passer-by needs pen and paper to calculate but still ends up miles off target.

Only the cashier in one of the border crossing's doomed bureaux de change knows without hesitation that her usual loaf of bread will cost her 60 cents.

But then her business is - for the moment at least - changing money.


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