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Euro cash

Big money

A bridge too far

The counterfeiters

UK euro notes

Tons of money

The Queen's head

Trouble at the mint

A cent is a cent

The launch of EMU

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BBC News Online

. Wherever and whenever there is a currency reform, there is fraud. Tricksters swindled innocuous people out of their money when the United Kingdom switched to decimalization, and the same happened when Germany introduced new banknotes in the 1980s.

To combat fraud and counterfeiting, EU governments have set up Europol, which only became fully operational as late as October 1998. With 155 staff (although this figure is expected to increase to 350 by the year 2000), Europol is expected to keep tabs on 12.5 billion banknotes and 76 billion coins, and any other fraud connected with the introduction of the euro.

Obviously criminals will be keen to hit the public with their forgeries before people have got used to the real thing, and the European Commission is worried that any such activity could undermine the acceptance of the new currency.

For a while EU officials were considering making euro banknotes out of plastic rather than paper, to make it more difficult to counterfeit them. However, the experience in Australia showed that plastic notes have a tendency to fade or bleach.

Europol is not a European FBI and it will have to rely on individual governments and national police forces in its fight against crime. Given the somewhat patchy record of Europe-wide co-operation in combating crime, Europol officials cannot expect plain sailing.

There is some good news, as a new cross border body has been set up to co-ordinate action against organised crime. The bad news is that its staff consists of one official and two part-timers.