- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

PARIS Fanfare and revelry welcomed the euro as the new currency of 12 European nations after midnight yesterday, but the French greeted the euro with resignation and even some trepidation.
The single European currency first became legal tender on Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean that is the easternmost point in the 12-nation euro zone.
Euros were transported to the island, to the east of Madagascar and 5,800 miles from Paris, by boat and plane, to be ready for circulation today.
The moment was celebrated by the mayor of Reunion's main town of St. Denis, on the island's northern coast.
"I hereby give you my first coin," Rene-Paul Victoria said as he made his first purchase with the new currency, buying a kilogram of litchi nuts for 76 euro cents the equivalent of 5 French francs, at a fruit stand.
Midnight in Reunion comes two hours ahead of Finland and Greece, the first two European countries to usher in euro bank notes and coins as part of the world's biggest monetary changeover.
Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain also were set to adopt the euro at midnight in their respective capitals.
As the euro countdown wore on yesterday, the mood was one of nostalgia as much as anticipation, with newspapers filled with tributes to their soon-obsolete bills and coins.
Spain's El Pais bid farewell to the peseta, calling it the "old companion." France's Liberation ran a short obituary to the 700-year-old franc: "The franc is dead (2002)."
"The euro was a dream only a few years ago. Now we have made it a reality. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new chapter of European history," said Romano Prodi, head of the European Commission, the 15-nation European Union's governing body.
"The euro is a symbol of European unity and an instrument of economic stability and growth …The euro is your money, my money, our money. And a little piece of Europe in our hands."
The 304 million Europeans in the euro zone for the last time used their old money exclusively to ride the train and shop, before the new euro bank notes became available at many of the euro zone's 200,000 automated teller machines.
German Finance Minister Hans Eichel said he would keep a German mark coin "to remind me of the day."
"Maybe I'll put it with a euro coin," he added.
"Together, they stand for a development that seemed completely impossible 50 years ago," he wrote in the Berliner Morgenpost. "We had a good time with the mark, but saying goodbye to it doesn't sadden me."
The French, however, were saddened.
"A long history is ending: that of the financial autonomy of European nations," said Jean D'ormesson of the prestigious French Academy, the ultimate guardian of the French language and tradition. "France no longer has its own currency."
The franc, created in 1360, spanned more than seven centuries, two royal dynasties, five republics and countless devaluations. In 1959, it was transformed into "the heavy franc" when, under President Charles de Gaulle, two zeros were amputated.
In anticipation of the euro's debut, banks across the euro zone disabled ATMs in the afternoon, switching software and loading them with euro notes to dispense to eager consumers at the stroke of midnight. Three countries Austria, Luxembourg and the Netherlands expect all ATMS to distribute euros on New Year's Day, with others pledging to follow within days.
Still, there were lines across Europe as people filled their wallets one last time with outgoing notes from Europe's oldest, the drachma, dating back 2,650 years, to the continent's most powerful, the German mark.
Italians were stocking up on the lira, withdrawing some $550 million on Saturday, more than double the amount on the same day last year, according to the Italian Banking Association.
Confusion emerged in Lisbon, where signs adorning the 2,000 parking meters notified baffled Portuguese drivers with only escudos in their pockets that they would accept only euros. The switch actually took effect at midnight.
The reign of the euro, officially starting today when banks are closed in all euro-zone countries, is giving the national currencies some reprieve. The franc will be used until Feb. 17 with euros, with the other 11 participating countries having until Feb. 28 to have all of their old currencies switched.
Britain, Denmark and Sweden declined to participate.
The other EU members have formed something that many consider a step toward a future European superstate. Economists have cautioned that the euro cannot be a success without strong political unity of the nations backing it.
There were calls for a need to coordinate economies, "the glue that holds any monetary union together," one French observer said.
"The EU's political institutions are incomplete. It is basically a monetary and economic union," Le Figaro said.
The French have reason to be concerned. The transition to the euro was preceded by a 22 percent drop on the Paris stock exchange in 2001 and an increase in unemployment to 9 percent.
The European Commission cautioned its members about a "structural malaise" and about political problems before the general elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden this year.
The transition to the euro in France was marred by scattered bank strikes, with some not planning to open for business until Thursday.
The switch also has forced the state postal service to hire 7,000 temporary workers and to authorize 700,000 hours of overtime to adjust all records in euros and handle all saving accounts in the new currency.
Accusations have been made of excessive "price adjustments upwards" in translating French francs into the unwieldy rate of 6.55 francs to one euro.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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