Vending sector calls for early euro coins

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Series Details Vol.7, No.24, 14.6.01, p8
Publication Date 14/06/2001
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Date: 14/06/01

By Simon Coss

Vending industry experts are predicting angry scenes in factory canteens across the eurozone at the beginning of next year, as thousands of workers are unable to buy their vital cups of morning coffee.

The Brussels-based European Vending Association (EVA) has warned of "mega queues in the Paris metro or strikes in coffee-deprived plants" at the beginning of 2002 because millions of vending machines in the 12-country single-currency bloc may not be able to accept euros.

The problem stems from the difficulty faced by many EVA member companies in obtaining the sample euro coins they need to re-calibrate their machines, EVA Director-General Catherine Piana explained. "National authorities are asking for ridiculous financial and security guarantees before they will release sample coins," she told European Voice.

EVA members account for around two million food and drink vending machines, which sell everything from chocolate bars in the Paris metro to tea and coffee in countless factory canteens across the eurozone.

Piana explained that while most of these machines are owned by a handful of very large companies, they are operated and maintained by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

And this is where the problem of unreasonable demands comes in, she says. "Some countries are asking vending machine operators to pick up their sample coins in armoured security vans and store them in specially constructed vaults," she complained, pointing out that such major investments were out of the question for most small firms. "SMEs are supposed to be the motor of growth in Europe, but the current policy could end up driving many firms out of business," warned the EVA chief. "We've already seen some firms go bust."

Later this month, the EVA will meet experts from the European Commission and the European Central Bank and ask for the rules on releasing sample coins to be relaxed.

But while Piana is "optimistic" that two institutions will heed her pleas, other experts seem less convinced about her chances of success. "There are rules for releasing sample coins already in place, so in a sense it's up to the vending machine operators to respect them," said one EU monetary affairs official. "As far as I am aware, there are no moves in the pipeline to change the current set up," he added.

EU finance ministers have made it clear on numerous occasions that they believe equal treatment should be the order of the day when it comes to helping industry handle the euro switch. This suggests they are unlikely to be keen on special measures for the vending trade.

But Piana is adamant. "Our industry is a big user of cash - about 10% of all cash transactions in the eurozone are through vending machines - so when we say the introduction of euro coins will cause problems, we know what we're talking about," she said.

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