EU gripped by euro fever as new currency takes off

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p1, 2, 4
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

By Martin Banks

THE release of 185 million starter kits ahead of the official New Year's Day launch of euro bank notes and coins triggered an unprecedented stampede across Europe by people eager to be among the first to sample the new currency.

Banks were besieged as thousands of customers sparked euro fever on the eve of E-Day. Many were buying starter kits as Christmas presents.

One exhausted Belgian banker said: "People just can't get enough of them."

Serge Berdholome, in charge of distribution of the euro for the Belgium National Bank, admitted that the huge demand had "really taken us by surprise".

"We initially intended distributing 2 million kits but this was increased to 5.5 million and still they have virtually sold out."

In Germany, banks opened at midnight on Monday to meet the demand for the 20-coin packs and immediately had to double the number available.

There were similar scenes across other member states. In Luxembourg, outlets reported people asking for up to 40 kits while in Finland the starter packs were sold out within 48 hours.

However, the arrival of the euro was greeted with less enthusiasm in the Dutch city of Maastricht - birthplace of the new currency - even though the government handed out 16million kits free of charge. When its branch of the ING bank opened at 9am last Friday, only six customers were waiting outside - three of them journalists.

Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes was delighted by the response to the launch of the euro - arguably Europe's most ambitious post-war project.

His spokesman, Gerassimos Thomas, said: "We were pleasantly surprised by this week's reaction. It's been amazing - demand in several countries has outstripped supply."

The smallest starter kits, containing eight coins worth the equivalent of €3.88 were released in Ireland, while the biggest was in France - 40 coins worth €15.25.

Bundesbank chief Ernst Welteke said the overwhelming demand for euro kits proved that Germany was warming to the currency. "This shows that those who had doubts about the reception the euro would receive were wrong," he said. His comments were echoed by other central bankers and French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius.

Euro bank notes have not been made available early to deter counterfeiters and none of the starter kits were distributed in the UK, Sweden and Denmark, the three countries outside the eurozone.

Willy Bruggeman, deputy director of the EU's police agency, Europol, repeated warnings over fake notes being produced in Kosovo and Macedonia, two of half a dozen non-EU territories that intend to adopt the euro as their official currency.

Feature on the issuing of euro starter kits in eurozone countries, as the build-up to the launch of euro coins and notes on 1 January 2002 intensifies.

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