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James Skinner

300 million humans can actually feel, handle and use a common currency.

‘Gospel truth! When I went to collect my Euro cheque book this morning, this was the sign I saw at the entrance to the bank. On the left hand side of the main hall, one of the tills had been reassigned and above the window sill was a large hand-written label that said: ‘Piggybanks’. I naturally asked the clerk who was dealing with me as to the reason for such an odd bank move. His answer made absolute common sense. As the queues to change Pesetas into Euros by most of the Galicians during the first days of the new currency grew longer, the bank manager realised something was wrong. Not all customers were his regulars. A great deal were out-of-towners who had never been to a bank in their lives. Some of these dear old country folk had come from far away villages, with their varying degree of savings carried in anything from dirty socks to grubby jam jars and had ventured forth to ‘buy’ Euros. They needed special attention and the banks were prepared to give it to them.

Portugal was more astute. Back in May, 2000, the ‘Portuguese Euro National Commission’ had sought the help of the Roman Catholic Church. The parish priests could inform their country ‘flock’ about the introduction of the new money. Brussels was perplexed whilst Lisbon was enthralled. Not only were notices placed outside the churches as well as the usual information leaflets handed out after Sunday mass, but at the end of the sermon the congregation as well as the Euro would receive a blessing from the priest. I could just picture him saying: ‘Go in peace. God bless you and … the Euro!’ The scheme worked. It also helped that a Euro was equivalent to ‘almost’ 200 Escudos.

It was not that simple at the border towns.
Portuguese merchants are having to deal in not only two but three currencies, Euros, Pesetas and Escudos. Can you imagine walking into a shop to find all the articles priced in three different figures? ‘The value of the article is the same’, says Nuno Gomes who owns a clothes shop in Valenca. ‘I have no problem with payment. Money is money after all’, he concluded. I picked up a shirt priced at 1560 Escudos, 1300 Pesetas and 7,50 Euros. I handed him my Visa which he diligently accepted. He wrapped up my article and handed me back my receipt which was, you guessed, in Euros!

Despite the overall acceptance of the new currency and the ‘Group of Twelve Politicos’ patting each other on the back over the Euro’s success, some hiccups have been observed that could have an impact on one economic factor of the European Union. I’m referring to inflation. Most merchants in Spain, prior to the introduction, cunningly began to round ‘up’ some of their prices in Pesetas to meet the Euro. My local Sunday paper, a loaf of bread and a bottle of olive oil are some examples of items that have gone up. They all form part of the ‘statistical’ shopping basket. But the private sector is not the only villain. The Post Office and public transport, to name a couple, surprised their customers with increases in some of their services. A normal letter within the European Union that cost 75 Pesetas in 2001 has now been raised to half a Euro (50 cents) which is an 11% increase! Rows broke out in the village of Cangas, across the bay from Vigo between the Consumers Association and the bus company that services both communities and those along the route. The new tariffs in Euros are so complex that depending on where you get on or off you maybe paying more or less in relation to the previous year’s fares. Despite the confusion, there was no comment from the bus company!

With all this Euro saga going on, one cannot forget the main enthusiasts. The kids. The children are and will be the main benefactors as well as the future consolidators of the currency. For them the Peseta is dead! They literally turned the Euro into a pastime. The children of the primary school ‘James the Apostle’ in the town of Soutomaior, on receiving the various and sometimes incomprehensible information about the Euro from government sources decided to improvise. They invented a ‘Euromarket’ game. Throughout the second school term last year, they collected empty packages, bottles and cartons from the supermarkets and using the usual pamphlets with ‘offers of the day’ would re-label the products in Euros. They then over priced some of them so that the student ‘buyer’ could detect the fraud. Others would work at the ‘till’. They all learned to handle the new money in a semi-real working environment long before D-day arrived. They weren’t the only ones as Europe also invented a Euro game.

The European Parliament’s Madrid office together with the European Commission has launched a contest on the Internet called the ‘Great Euro Game’. More than 5000 schoolchildren grouped in 500 teams from Spain, Germany , Belgium, Italy and – wait for it – the United Kingdom, have already entered the same. According to the organisers, the game consists in resolving a series of tests based on intellectual and practical ability in the use of the Euro thus increasing one’s knowledge of the European Union. They feel that understanding the historical and social impact as well as the future economic repercussions of the new currency are essential in the education system for nurturing the success of the European Union. The Internet is a magnificent tool to unite European students in such a game. Why not check it out at

The physical introduction of the Euro in its final stage has proved two points. First of all it is here to stay. Thousands of articles have been written over the past two years by numerous European experts yet none have been able to pin point the actual effect on the public until it actually happened. As Lourdes Santamarina Pérez and Andres Fernandez Otero of Caixanova, a Galician savings bank, summed up: ‘The physical implant of the Euro since its creation three years ago is turning out to be a success. Nevertheless, as the Euro becomes the second most important currency in the international community after the dollar, it has not had enough time to consolidate its credibility. The required confidence needed by investors may yet take several decades.’ The second point is that, regardless of the world’s present economic woes, the Euro has established itself as a trading tool across certain European boundaries. 300 million humans can actually feel, handle and use a common currency. This, by far is the most important issue introduced into today’s world community.

© James Skinner. 2002.

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