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Europe's leaders hail new currency

The euro is being launched simultaneously in 12 countries
The euro is being launched simultaneously in 12 countries  


BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Politicians joined the public across Europe in greeting the launch of the continent's new currency.

The introduction of the euro on New Year's Day in 12 European countries marked the largest currency swap in history.

Leading the praise was Pope John Paul, whose Vatican City mini-state joined Italy in switching to the euro.

The pope congratulated the Europe Union, saying: "I hope that this may favour the full development of the citizens ... and that justice and solidarity may flourish."

Romano Prodi, president of the EU's executive Commission said: "We have given an example of real change in freedom and democracy. The new Europe will be something big in the world."

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The nations adopting the euro are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain.

French President Jacques Chirac dedicated his traditional New Year television address to the euro, hailing it as a victory for Europe but urging economic and social reforms to accompany it.

"The euro is a victory for Europe. After a century of being torn apart, of wars and tribulations, our continent is finally affirming its identity and power in peace, unity and stability," he said.

"But for the euro to keep its promises, for it to help us (the French) to improve our position and rank in the world, big modernising reforms of society, economy and state must be launched to remove the brakes on our progress."

European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg said: "The euro has clearly demonstrated it can achieve its main objectives -- price stability, market transparency and facilitating commerce.

"Some problems are bound to occur here and there, but I'm convinced they will be limited and we will tackle them."

The European Commission said the changeover had gone smoothly and citizens of the 12 euro zone countries were showing enthusiasm and curiosity about their new currency.

"It seems that all the reports are positive," the Commission's economics spokesman Gerassimos Thomas told a briefing on Tuesday.

"Nothing much is happening. No news is good news."

Thomas added: "There is an enthusiasm and people want to retrieve euros and touch the euros today. It's good that people want to touch and feel the euro."

Having touched, felt and seen their new currency, Europeans were mixed in their reaction to the notes and coins.

In Milan, Italy, Leonardo Maestri, 59, said: "Foreigners always laughed at the lire because of all the zeros and thought of it like a third world currency.

"The euro gives us credibility so I feel richer."

In France, pensioner Yvonne Mironniau, leaving a Paris bakery with two baguettes, was in no hurry to spend her euros.

She said: "I've got one of the little euro sachets but I want to get rid of my francs first. I'll probably go and withdraw some euros tomorrow or the day after.

WHAT THEY SAID
graphic
I think they're quite beautiful.
photographer Kris Kushulck in Brussels
graphic
They're smaller and less bright. I thought they'd be garish.
William Dukelow, comparing euro notes to Belgian francs
graphic
It's just how it is, nothing special. Go and shop, money is all the same.
Sandra Meier in Frankfurt
graphic
It doesn't look real. It's small, isn't it? It's a funny colour. It doesn't smell like money.
Irish tourist Kieran O'Brien in Amsterdam
graphic
God how ugly! They look so cold metallic, boring and soulless.
Michela Moccia in Rome
graphic
Now that I have the money in my hand, I have the feeling of connection -- as if we share the same language.
Thekla Bauer in Frankfurt
graphic
Our pound was always insignificant, irrelevant, unrecognized in the world. This right here puts us on the map.
Gerry Duggan in Dublin
graphic
graphic
graphic
Sources: AP, Reuters

"Do I feel poorer in euros? No, in fact when you see prices of shoes and clothes in the window, you think, 'That's cheap'. But then you quickly realise it's in euros."

But at Berlin's central Zoo train station a middle-aged man showed annoyance at the demise of the German mark.

"I don't want this money," he said on receiving his change in euros rather than marks.

"It's confusing, too many coins and people will get all mixed up," said Constantina Koletsi, 20, a student living in Athens. "Taxis and kiosks will be the worst."

While European leaders gave the new currency a warm welcome, in Britain -- one of three countries not adopting the currency -- eurosceptics greeted it with outright disdain.

Lord Lamont, who was the UK chancellor (finance minister) running the Treasury on Black Wednesday in 1992 when Britain withdrew from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, called on Britons to "rejoice" that they were not part of the euro.

Lamont, now president of the eurosceptic Bruges Group, told the Press Association: "Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice that we are not part of it."

He added: "All the glitz, all the razzmatazz and all the self-congratulation cannot disguise the reality that the euro has not lived up to its billing.

"It was meant to be a hard currency -- it has been weak. It was meant to be stable -- it has been volatile. It was meant to rival the dollar -- it hasn't."

Prodi predicted Britain would join the single currency but he said he was making "no forecast" on when that might be.

"I know that any interference in British policy is negative. I have to behave well. I have to run well the euro," he told the BBC.

"We might be successful and then you will be in -- if not you better stay out. I think you are in the wonderful situation of making the choice.

"But I am convinced the euro will be a success."



 
 
 
 


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