- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

BRUSSELS (AP) — Four in 10 Europeans using the euro still have difficulty handling the currency five years after it went into circulation, according to a survey released yesterday.

Many big purchases, such as houses and cars, are still priced in old currencies rather than the euro, the survey said.

“A significant number of respondents within the euro zone countries — 41 percent — still claim they have some difficulties with the euro,” said the EU-commissioned Gallup Poll. “Fifteen percent experience a lot of difficulty with the euro, virtually unchanged since 2003.”

The euro came into circulation on Jan. 1, 2002, in 12 nations: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Next week, Slovenia will adopt the euro, bringing the total population of the euro zone to 316.6 million people.

Today, the currency fares best in Ireland and Luxembourg: 81 percent and 77 percent of people there, respectively, say they have no problem using the currency. In Italy, those having trouble with the euro outnumber “those who say there are no difficulties at all” by a margin of 56 percent to 45 percent, the survey found.

Germans, the Dutch and Austrians struggle the most with euro coins: 37 percent, 31 percent and 29 percent, respectively. The coins are a problem for 7 percent to 9 percent of the Spanish, Portuguese and Finns.

“The ratio of those who consider using euro bank notes difficult is rather low” across the 12 euro nations, the survey said.

Although the euro has become a benchmark for small purchases — a cup of coffee, a shirt or a magazine — it is only “slowly becoming the benchmark currency for significant purchases.” Forty percent of “major purchases” such as homes and cars are still calculated in the old national currencies, the survey found.

Although 59 percent of Eurozone users in 2002 thought their new currency was “overall advantageous for their country, currently only less than half of respondents hold such a favorable opinion,” it added.

The survey questioned 12,000 people by phone between Sept. 4 and Sept. 9. The margin of error was 4.4 percentage points.

The poll tapped a lingering perception that the euro has raised prices, even though inflation figures do not show that.

European Union Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia blames isolated pricing abuse at the time of the January 2002 changeover for that, and that price increases are remembered longer than price drops.

Mr. Almunia said governments must better communicate the merits of a single currency.

“The euro has brought us many advantages,” he said. “Inflation and interest rates have never been so low for so long.”

The euro has spared the European Union from “exchange rate crises and market speculation” that engulfed Europe’s old currencies, has been stable and strong, making imports cheaper and made travel across Europe easier and more affordable, he said.

But the euro has not made Europeans feel more European.

“Most citizens in the euro area do not think that the euro has had any effect on their feelings of being European,” the poll said.



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