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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
The rollout of
the euro currency on Jan. 1 is the European Unions (EU)
most ambitious experiment in unity and is reported to be the
worlds largest-ever money-changing operation. The new
notes and coins, called euro and cent, respectively, will be
used in 12 of the 15 EU member countries (the eurozone) by almost
300 million citizens.
The euros turbulent ride on currency markets since it
began trading in 1999 leaves EU officials hoping its physical
launch will run more smoothly. However, concerns about preparedness,
forgery, and price gouging, along with a general sense of anxiety,
Assessing Irelands readiness, the Irish Independent
noted that Dublin taxi meters, for example, will not be
changed in time. La Repubblica (Oct. 25) voiced
Italians concerns: Will postage stamps in lira still
be valid, [and] when will lira prepaid phone cards expire?
Elke Schulze, writing in Hamburg's Stern (Nov. 8), articulated
the pervading uncertainty: The euro stands, first and
foremost, for price transparency between 12 European countries.
If thats so, then what does it mean? Will prices everywhere
come under pressure, as they move toward uniformity? Will products
get more expensive in Portugal and cheaper in Finland? Or is
it the other way around? Retailers, expected to accept
euros on Jan. 1, are especially worried about forgery. Radio
Free Europe (Sept. 13) said, Forgers are already reported
to be hard at work printing fake euros on sophisticated laser
scanners and color printers.
Although the eurozone is not one country, it will be for monetary
purposes. The Irish Times (Oct. 23) opined that [t]he
euros weakness...reflects the fundamental uncertainties
of creating a single currency in what is not one single political
area. The [European Central Bank] controls interest rates...but
each individual member state has its own government that controls
most other aspects of economic policy. A peril to Spains
economy, Manuel Lloris wrote in El País (Nov.
2), is that in the event of a recession, we cannot have...
recourse to devalution.
As an exercise in voluntary transfer of power, it remains
almost unprecedented, wrote John Ross in Athen's Kathimerini.
Ross also lamented the demise of the Greek drachma, described
as the worlds oldest currency.
A dual circulation period is in place until the end of February,
but thereafter only euro currency will be accepted in Belgium,
Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg,
The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, and Finland. Not participating
in the common currency at this stage are Britain, Sweden, and
Denmark. An EU-funded advertising campaign launched in September
has since expanded to all EU accession countries, as well as
Kosovo and Montenegro. The German mark is the official currency
there, and they will also change over to the euro.
The Basque separatist terrorist group ETA has offered an (ominous)
early welcome to the euro: Londons Guardian reported
in September that the ETA is requesting extortion money in euros
rather than pesetasa symbol of the Spanish state that
they so despise.
While long-term concerns remain, the initial transition is the
immediate worry: Admittedly, since the painless passage
of Y2K one must be wary of apocalyptic predictions, wrote
Gerard Dupuy in Libération (Oct. 5). But
the Y2K test concerned only technicians who acted within their
professional framework. This time, we will deal with a massive
test of intelligence to be passed by tens of million of amateurs.