Brussels, 3 April 2001
Introduction of the euro: Commission takes detailed stock of state of preparations and identifies twenty good practices
With 272 days to go before €-Day, the Commission has presented a Communication on the preparations for the introduction of euro notes and coins, which takes stock of the preparations by the various economic actors and of progress in implementing the Commission Recommendation of 11 October 2000 and identifies some examples of good practice that could facilitate a smooth transition to the new currency. Mr Pedro Solbes, the Commissioner responsible for economic and monetary affairs, commented that "the report is mixed. The good news sits alongside continuing sources of concern. Urgent efforts must be made to encourage SMEs and gradually to step up information campaigns for consumers. None of the good practices identified is revolutionary. However, their cumulative effect should help to 'oil' the machinery for carrying out the currency changeover."
The Communication adopted today has been presented in agreement with Mr Erkki Liikanen, the Commissioner for enterprise and the information society, Mr Frits Bolkestein, the Commissioner for the internal market, and Mr David Byrne, the Commissioner for health and consumer protection.
A MIXED REPORT
Overall, preparations by large businesses are making satisfactory progress. However, SMEs are still lagging behind. Just under half of them, for example, still do not have an action plan for the changeover to the euro. Almost one business in three has not yet realised that 1 January 2002 is the final date for operating entirely in euros. Mr Solbes calls for the information campaigns directed at SMEs to be continued and stepped up.
Despite significant progress in raising awareness of the timetable (60% of individuals know the exact date on which euro notes and coins will be introduced), the arrangements for the changeover to the euro have still not been properly taken on board and consumers are still not familiar with the new currency. For example, one person in five does not know that the introduction of the euro will be accompanied by the withdrawal of the old national currency units, and most consumers say they do not pay attention to the dual display of prices.
The Commission observes that the numerous information campaigns have so far had limited impact because of a lack of genuine interest on the part of consumers. The situation will doubtless evolve at the beginning of the second half of the year, with the early changeover - advocated by the Commission last October - of bills issued by the main utilities, of bank accounts and of non-cash means of payment. All of this will help to immerse individuals gradually in a euro environment and to awaken their interest in the new currency.
Public administrations are generally ready and provide businesses and the general public with quite a broad range of euro options. However, they could play a greater role by adopting a pro-active approach aimed at imparting a knock-on effect to the economy as a whole, for example by switching over public contracts and civil servants' salaries to the euro. Few Member States have so far made any move in this direction.
All in all, the banking community has followed the Commission's Recommendation of 11 October 2000. It is pursuing a very active policy of preparing for the euro that generally includes an early switchover to it in relations with their customers. The adaptation of automatic cash dispensers in 2002 should be very rapid, if not immediate, in most participating Member States and, as a rule, they will dispense small-denomination notes, thereby helping to reduce the problems that traders encounter in giving change. The exchange of national notes for euro notes will be free of charge and unlimited in most participating countries during the period of dual circulation. In practice, banks have played a leading role in the changeover to the euro and have helped significantly to enhance the "euro awareness" of economic actors.
TWENTY GOOD PRACTICES TO FACILITATE THE CHANGEOVER TO THE EURO
These good practices do not in every case lend themselves to the situation in all participating Member States or in all sectors but, generally, speaking, they could be usefully copied in most of the participating Member States. Some measures could be taken before 1 January 2002, and others during the period of dual circulation.
Ten examples of useful measures that can be taken before 1 January 2002
Distributing widely among small traders tools for calculating change. Large retailers are equipped with tills that can calculate the amount of change to be given, including for payments involving both euros and national currency. This will seldom be the case with small traders, for whom the lack of special equipment could seriously complicate the management of checkouts. Inexpensive calculator-type devices exist on the market, but few orders for them have so far been forthcoming. Tools of this nature are, however, essential in order to avoid queues building up in small shops and to minimise the risk of errors in giving change. There are many channels through which they could be distributed: chambers of commerce, banks, associations of retailers, public administration, etc.
Devising and distributing simple tools for estimating cash requirements. It is not easy for traders to estimate their frontloading and cash-flow requirements for early 2002. They must do so, however, since they will have to order the necessary notes and coins in advance. Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands are the only countries so far to have devised and distributed among traders small software packages for calculating their frontloading and cash-flow requirements.
With the customer's agreement, handing out kits of euro coins along with change during the last few days in December. This idea, which is being considered in particular by Dutch traders, is relatively easy to put into effect as the value of the kits will always be equivalent to a round figure in national currency (FRF 100, BEF 500, etc.). It could help to diversify the usual distribution channels and increase the amount frontloaded to consumers, thereby reducing the problems of tendering exact money and giving change in euros in the early days of 2002.
Allowing employers to distribute kits of euro coins as a free gift to their staff. The Belgian authorities are, for example, allowing employers to give each member of their staff a kit of euro coins (deductible by the company as a business expense). This measure is also likely to increase the volume of euro coins frontloaded to consumers.
Loading cash dispensers with smaller denominations of national banknotes during the final days of December. This measure is planned in Germany and the Netherlands in particular. It would make it possible to lower the value of denominations tendered in payments during the first few days of January 2002, thereby reducing the amount of change to be given in euros and alleviating the logistical constraints on traders.
Loading cash dispensers in advance with euro notes. Several large banks are planning to do this, in particular in Belgium and other countries where cash dispensers have four cassettes. The euro cassette would normally be activated electronically on 1 January at 00.00, thereby enabling the supply of euro notes to members of the public to begin immediately.
Sending specialists to explain on the spot to traders the arrangements for the changeover to the euro. This step has been taken by the Lille chamber of commerce, for example, which has appointed experts to call on all traders in turn at off-peak times to explain how the changeover will take place. Initiatives of this kind could usefully be taken throughout the euro area by chambers of commerce, chambers of trade or local authorities.
Writing to all businesses to remind them of their obligations. Some countries including France, Belgium and Luxembourg have written to all VAT-registered businesses to remind them of the different deadlines approaching and of the accounting and tax obligations they must meet in 2002 at the time of the changeover to the euro. This should improve the information made available to businesses, and in particular the smallest ones, and should limit any confusion.
Organising operations to simulate euro payments. There has been a proliferation - often on the initiative of local authorities - of such simulations, involving the issue for a very limited period of tokens or dummy notes with a "value" equivalent to the euro. These operations allow individuals to familiarise themselves with euro payments in a consumer-friendly manner.
Involving all local actors in euro information campaigns. Take, for example, the region of Barcelona, where the authorities in each village have called on all local economic actors to set up local groups to monitor the changeover to the euro and to coordinate information campaigns aimed at the general public and SMEs.
Ten examples of useful measures that can be taken after 1 January 2002
Postponing the starting date of the winter sales if these normally take place during the first week in January. This measure is planned in Belgium. Traditionally, the first three days of the sales are the busiest. Dissociating the two events would avoid the disadvantage of a peak in business activity coinciding with the most difficult period for cash management.
Allowing national banknotes to be invalidated. Belgium has decided that bank branches will invalidate national banknotes in 2002 by perforating them, and France is studying the matter. Although this measure raises certain technical difficulties (for example, care must be taken to ensure that perforated notes are not rejected by counting machines), it should significantly reduce security and insurance problems, especially if it is accompanied by rules whereby only banks are allowed to exchange national notes at the central bank.
Providing standard packages for returning national coins. This will be the case for example in France. Two different options are available depending on the way bank branches operate. If they periodically accept traders' cash receipts by crediting their accounts and in return issue them each morning with a standard float in euros, it would be useful to provide traders with standard packages for returning national coins that make up a round figure in national currency. If traders receive a float in euros equivalent to the amount of national currency they deposited the previous evening, it would be useful to provide them with standard packages for returning national coins corresponding to a round figure in euros. Measures of this nature will help to ensure that coins are returned quickly.
Keeping in a separate place national notes and coins received at checkouts. Most large retailers plan to keep incoming cash in national currency in a separate box under the till. If the checkout assistant has national currency easily accessible and visible to customers, some customers paying in national currency might ask for their change in national currency, which would be highly counterproductive overall.
Appointing one or more members of staff in large supermarkets and department stores specifically to answer customers' questions about the euro. To minimise queue management problems, it is necessary at the very least to ensure as several large retailers intend to do that all customers' questions about the euro are dealt with away from the checkouts. Combining at the same checkout the complex tasks of giving change in euros and answering questions from ill-informed customers would be asking for trouble and could result in even longer queues.
Placing converters at the disposal of customers. The period of dual circulation will be tricky for traders, and errors are liable to creep in. To deal swiftly with any complaints by customers, it is desirable to provide converters for their use at checkouts. European representatives of the retail trades undertook to do this in the joint statement of 2 April 2001.
Opening some or all bank counters on 1 January 2002. Dutch banks and German savings banks and people's banks in particular plan to do this. Such a measure would facilitate the early stages of the changeover process by enabling the replacement of notes and coins to begin on day one. It would also provide reassurance to members of the public and businesses. If not enough staff were available, access to bank branches could, where necessary, be limited to traders.
Adapting cash dispensers to euros as early as possible. In all the participating countries cash dispensers are the main source of banknotes for customers. In five countries (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria) all ATMs will distribute euros from day one, thereby creating the conditions for swift introduction of the new currency. Adapting cash dispensers quickly is an essential condition for the success of the changeover operations.
Extending bank opening hours. Already planned by many banks, longer opening hours during the first two weeks of January 2002 should facilitate the smooth replacement of notes and coins and limit the volume of national currency tendered in payment for purchases in shops (and so make the task of giving change less complicated).
Ensuring that customers withdrawing household amounts of cash at bank counters receive small-denomination notes. Planned in Belgium, Spain and Germany in particular, this measure is also part of the agreement reached on 19 February 2001 between the Commission and the three European banking associations.(1) It will be a useful accompaniment to the loading of cash dispensers with small denominations and will thus help reduce the problems of giving change in euros.
The communication will also be available at the following internet address:
(1)The European Banking Federation, the European Association of Cooperative Banks and the European Savings Banks Group.