- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

PARIS The European Union's single currency arrives tomorrow along with an upheaval in the self-service machines that have spread into nearly every facet of modern life.
Coca-Cola alone has to refit 288,000 vending machines. Some 200,000 automated teller machines had to be adjusted, as well as untold numbers of parking meters, ticket machines and public lockers.
Even wallets have undergone redesigns.
The introduction of a single set of bills and coins in 12 nations after midnight today is part of Europe's grand plan to knit together an economic market of 300 million people. But the dawn of the euro also could cause confusion, at least in the short term, as governments phase out old currencies for the new one.
The good news is that companies and governments have spent months, even years, retooling the cash-operated machines that are routine parts of daily life.
Governments have tried to rig public devices, such as train-station ticket machines, luggage caddies and parking meters, by tomorrow or soon after. Supermarket chains from France to Germany to Greece say they have modified their shopping carts, which require a refundable coin for each use.
The conversion of privately operated vending machines, however, could drag on for weeks. Countries have up to a two-month grace period during which the euro will circulate alongside national currencies.
ATMs are considered the front line. Roughly 70 percent of people in the euro zone are expected to withdraw their first euro notes from bank machines, says the European Central Bank.
"It's one of the biggest logistical challenges Europe has faced," said Ian Buxton, a senior consultant at NCR Corp., the U.S. company that makes about half the ATMs used in the euro zone. NCR started preparing for the switch five years ago.
All ATMs in Austria, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are slated to dispense euros by New Year's Day, which means that late-night revelers can withdraw the newly minted bills after the stroke of midnight.
All 830,000 cigarette machines in Germany will accept both euros and marks until March 1, said Peter Lind, general manager of the German Association of the Tobacco Industry.
Coca-Cola has reprogrammed the 46,000 vending machines it operates in Belgium and Luxembourg to accept both francs and euros. As for the remaining 242,000 Coke machines serving euro-zone consumers, "We are going to be there by the end of the transition," said company spokesman Jonathan Chandler.
During the two-month transition, many public machines will accept both euros and old national currencies.

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