Europeans start spending euros
FRANKFURT, Germany -- Europeans have been spending their way into a new era as the euro becomes an everyday reality of coins and banknotes.
Meanwhile, leaders of the dozen nations -- and 300 million people -- involved promised monetary union would cement peace and prosperity.
Many cash machines began churning out euros at midnight on New Year's Day, the moment they became legal tender -- just as European Central Bank officials had planned.
The European Commission said on Tuesday the changeover to the euro appeared to be going smoothly and citizens of the 12 euro zone countries were showing enthusiasm and curiosity about their new currency.
Although banks and businesses have been using it on paper for three years, European Union leaders hope the cash becoming reality will help convince ordinary citizens of the political and economic benefits of a borderless monetary system.
"We have given an example of real change in freedom and democracy. The new Europe will be something big in the world," said Romano Prodi, president of the EU's executive Commission.
In a huge logistical exercise, 15 billion banknotes are being distributed across the 12 nations of the eurozone. Tonnes of old national banknotes will be shredded and coinage melted down.
Fears of armed robberies as banks transported the new notes and coins proved largely unfounded with police reporting few problems except for a theft from a bank of 90,000 euros ($79,720) near the Spanish city of Zamora on Monday.
In Frankfurt, people lined up at a Dresdner Bank ATM -- under the glare of TV cameras and the watchful eye of security guards -- to be among the first to handle the new notes.
Elsewhere, the money was flowing more slowly. In Belgium -- home of the European Union -- cash machines were fast running out of euro notes as queues formed at thousands of banks.
In Ireland, cash machines began dispensing euro notes near dawn, and people keen to see and feel the new money were making withdrawals.
Five machines operated by the National Irish Bank in Dublin began dispensing the notes soon after 6 a.m.
And in Paris, many machines simply had no euros.
The first official euro purchase was one kilo of lychees on the French island of Reunion -- whose location in the Indian Ocean made it the first European territory to usher in the New Year and handle the euro.
On the European continent itself, time zones dictated it was Greece and Finland that led the way.
A huge euro pyramid lit up the night sky in Syntagma Square in Athens as the Greeks said goodbye to the drachma, Europe's oldest currency.
Far to the north in Helsinki, the Bank of Finland opened its doors at midnight for an hour to let its citizens swap their markka for the newfangled money.
In Berlin, fireworks greeted the new year and new currency.
And in Paris, the city's oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, was swathed in the colours of the EU -- with the landmark's 12 arches symbolising the number of eurozone nations that were about to share the same currency.
"I think really this time it's a historical moment," said French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius.
"Very often we use the word historical but it's not historical. This time it is, because I think this is the first time 12 nations, 12 large nations, decide to join their currency, their sovereignty, and to have the same currency. And it's not only a question of a new currency, it's a new stage in the building up of the European Union."
Response to the new money among Europeans was mixed.
Some people, though, were openly mourning the end of the familiar national currencies, which will be phased out by the end of February in most eurozone nations.
In the northern German town of Gifhorn, 100 people in black suits and top hats held a symbolic funeral procession and buried an oversized Deutschemark to the accompaniment of sombre music.
Black money: Spain's 'euro effect'
December 31, 2001
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