- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

From combined dispatches
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that Britain was being "foolish" if it thought it could run away from the single European currency.
Speaking en route to Bangladesh, where he began a five-day tour of South Asian countries, Mr. Blair urged his fellow Britons not to bury their heads in the sand now that the euro has been introduced as a full-fledged notes-and-coins currency.
"The euro is now a reality. So I think the idea that we can run away from it or hide our head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist would be very foolish," Mr. Blair said.
Britain, Denmark and Sweden chose to stay out of the euro when it was introduced as a virtual currency in 1999, but Mr. Blair has promised to revisit the issue of membership within 18 months.
Meanwhile, strains emerged in Italy over the birth of the euro but problems elsewhere were few yesterday as the European Central Bank (ECB) said the largely smooth introduction had exceeded its expectations.
"Now two days after the introduction of euro cash, I can say the huge task has so far progressed very smoothly, beyond our own expectations and hope," ECB President Wim Duisenberg said after the bank's first meeting since the currency's Jan. 1 debut.
"We can already pronounce this unprecedented move a tremendous success," he added.
But in Italy, a founding member of the European Union, the government appeared in disarray over the rollout, and even the Vatican said it was facing delays in issuing 670,000 special euro coins bearing the image of Pope John Paul II.
Italy's automatic cash machines also lagged behind.
Mr. Duisenberg said by 8 a.m. EST yesterday only 85 percent of Italy's cash machines were issuing euros, but the figure was expected to reach 90 percent by the end of the day.
In Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands it was already 100 percent, he said.
The European Commission said delays in distribution of euro cash in Italy and other glitches had left the country at the bottom of the class of the 12-nation currency bloc in terms of euro transactions.
In France, retailers said yesterday they could face possible shortages of notes and coins unless they received fresh supplies before the first main shopping weekend of the New Year.
Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero attacked colleagues in the center-right government in a newspaper interview for belittling the vast project Europe's biggest-ever peacetime logistical operation involving the distribution of more than 9 billion bank notes and 51 billion coins and the collection of 12 national monies.
"The differences of opinion aren't marked, they are very marked," he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
In Germany, police said a 12-year-old girl found a forged 50 euro note on a train, the first counterfeit case to come to light since the new cash was issued to more than 300 million Europeans on New Year's Day.
Another man used a fake 500 euro note, stuck together from advertisement brochures, to con a casino out of deutsche mark coins.
"To our current knowledge these isolated incidents have not involved counterfeits as such but a rather crude attempt to pass publicity material in payment," said a spokesman for Europol.
Its relevance can be considered as extremely low," said the spokesman for the European police agency, which is based in The Hague.
On financial markets, the euro held on to most of the gains it notched up against other major currencies on Wednesday, showing little reaction to the ECB's decision to keep its benchmark interest rate at 3.25 percent.


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