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Will we ever live with the euro?; IT'S ALL CHANGE ACROSS EUROPE AS MANY OF OUR CONTINENTAL NEIGHBOURS PREPARE TO CASH IN THEIR CURRENCIES.

Byline: Fiona Scott

TODAY tourists in 12 European countries will discover the euro is a reality. Prime Minister Tony Blair says it will be "massively" in our interests to have it in Britain. Political Editor FIONA SCOTT reports.

FLYING to Paris in the New Year? Escaping the post-Christmas grey skies in Coventry to bask in the relatively warmer Mediterranean shores? Skiing in the Austrian Alps? Or simply stocking up on wine with a trip across the Channel?

You may have packed your French francs, Spanish pesetas and Austrian Schilling. Or maybe you have you taken out travellers' cheques in euros.

For from today the much debated euro becomes the official currency in 12 of the 15 European Union countries - Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal and Spain.

Prices will be given in euros, change will be in euros and if you exchange money in any of the countries you will get euros.

You can still use the national currencies until February 28 in all of them, except Ireland where the punts will no longer be legal tender on February 9 and France, where the francs will disappear on February 17.

In Germany the deutschmark will officially no longer be legal currency from January 1, but shops will take it until February 28.

"In the short term there will inevitably be confusion as the 12 established European currencies disappear, longer term the change should hugely simplify the experience of travelling across the European continent," said John Howells, head of American Express Foreign Exchange UK.

"In the meanwhile, travellers' should not be fazed or deterred by the introduction of the new notes and coins."

An immediate advantage is that travellers' will be able to compare prices between countries much more easily - no more guessing whether a Big Mac or a Coca Cola costs more in Disneyland Paris than Barcelona.

One euro is worth about 62 pence and there will be notes in five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros. Each euro is worth 100 cents, and there will be coins in one, two, five, 10, 20, 50 cents and one and two euros.

Each coin will have one face with a common euro design and the opposite with a design for its country of origin.

Be careful if you've hoarded currency from previous holidays abroad - it will soon become worthless. If you're going abroad in January, take it. If not, think about changing it or giving it to charities.

Each of the 12 countries has different dates after which its banks will no longer change their old national currencies for euros.

Spain, Ireland and Germany have set no dates. Austria and Finland are leaving it up to the banks. Belgians have until Hogmanay 2004, Italians until March 2012, Portuguese until Hogmanay 2002. The remaining countries have different dates for coins and notes, varying from 2004 to 2032.

Charities are hoping for a New Year's euro present by urging people to look through their drawers for loose holiday cash they cannot be bothered to change.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of foreign currency is probably lurking in thousands of homes across Britain - and remember - you can't take it with you on the summer holiday.

But what is the euro status in the UK?

Many of the big department stores said they will accept it. They include Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Selfridges and Dixons.

Clearly the shops that do a lot of trade with foreign tourists - especially those in London - will not want to turn customers with euros away.

Travel West Midlands Travel is the first bus company in Britain to decide to accept euros - and it is giving a bargain to passengers who pay in them.

The firm will take euros on two routes from Birmingham Airport - the 900 service from Birmingham to Coventry via the airport and the 966 service from the airport to Solihull.

Passengers on those routes will be able to buy a day-saver ticket entitling them to go on any Travel West Midlands bus for a day. At four euros, about pounds 2.48, it will be cheaper than the pounds 2.50 charged in sterling. The price was set to avoid the difficulty of giving change.

When we actually get our own euro is still being debated but even if Tony Blair gave a solid commitment it would take another two to three years.

He has been attacked for saying the new single currency would be massively in our interests - without giving a date for its introduction.

The government is said to be hoping that today's introduction in 12 of our EC partners will "acclimatise" public opinion to the idea that the pound is on the way out.

Documents leaked to a Sunday newspaper suggest plans are afoot to alter the national curriculum so that children are taught about the currency in schools.

There are even rumours that TV shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? will be encouraged to promote the euro.

FOR

MICHAEL CASHMAN is the Labour MEP who covers Coventry and Warwickshire for the three-strong team of West Midlands Labour MEPs. He is a member of Labour's national executive committee and famous for his acting career which included EastEnders.

He is FOR Britain joining the Euro.

"IT is time to ask 'who gains the most from Britain staying out of a single currency?'

Those with most to gain are the people and businesses which make billions of pounds each year because we buy and sell our goods in different currencies. These billions of pounds are charged to the importers and exporters and the cost is picked up by consumers and taxpayers. In short you and I pay for these ridiculous charges and they make our goods and businesses uncompetitive with the rest of Europe.

Make no mistake - the costs are always passed on. So if we want a better deal for taxpayers, consumers, markets and manufacturers it makes common sense for us to join a single currency.

Sixty per cent of our trade is with the European Union, so being out of a single currency puts us at a disadvantage and it threatens jobs and investment. In Coventry alone nearly 23,000 jobs depend directly on trade with the EU.

Then there are the benefits to people with hire purchase agreements, credit cards, overdrafts, loans, mortgages - all these would be reduced because interest rates would come down to EU level. Lower interest rates would reduce prices and costs and if everything was priced in Euros we'd begin to ask why we pay so much more for goods compared to other countries in the EU. The single currency makes sense because the cost of living would come down and the quality of living would go up.

As for sovereignty and national identity, we can never lose that, and the Queen's head can be proudly displayed on our euro currency - if we want it.

The anti-euro myths are peddled by those who are on the side of those making billions each year ripping off Britain. It is as simple as that."

against

PHILIP BUSHILL-MATTHEWS is the Conservative MEP who covers Coventry and Warwickshire for the four-strong group of West Midlands Conservative MEPs. He is a former businessman who turned to politics because he was fed-up with red tape coming out of Europe.

THE basic problem for the UK is so much of our trade is outside Euroland. Of the 12 countries that are joining up to the euro, 90 per cent of their trade is with each other. Their economies are very much intertwined.

A 'one-size-fits-all' interest rate is less of an issue for them. Fixing their currencies together is less of an issue for them.

We trade much more than any of them with the United States and much more than any of them with our former colonies, as well as with the Far East.

Only around 50 per cent of our trade is with Euroland. Our currency is much more tied to global trading flows than theirs. Because of that we shouldn't fix to anything.

Some people say we should fix the pound to the dollar. My view is we should not. Winston Churchill fixed us to the gold standards many, many years ago and that seemed a good idea at the time but was a disaster within a very short time.

Ten years ago we were fixed to the exchange rate mechanism and that seemed a good idea at the time but in the end it was unsustainable and literally tens of thousands of jobs went to the wall.

Sir Eddie George once said you can have a stable economy with an unstable currency or a stable currency with an unstable economy; in other words the way to keep an economy stable is to be able to manage it flexibly.

Once you're in, you're supposed to be in for all time. I would not take a risk like that with my country.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:1495
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