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Brussels, 11 January 2002

Euro changeover practically complete

On average, almost 85% of cash payments are made in euros. Over two thirds of vending machines have been converted to the euro. The changeover is entering the home straight.

The proportion of cash payments in euros yesterday averaged almost 85% (in volume terms). It is over 70% in all the participating countries and is significantly above the average in four of them (Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg). Many large stores are reporting lower figures, as they are receiving the remaining national currency notes which many customers are using up. The euro is being used much more in local shops than in large stores and supermarkets.

Over two thirds of vending machines have been converted to the euro. The proportion is over 75% in six countries (the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Austria and Luxembourg). There are significant differences between Member States in the number and use of vending machines, but operators in the public and private sectors are continuing their efforts to speed up the pace of conversion.

A number of attempts to put into circulation poor-quality reproductions of euro notes (photocopies, prints of scanned notes, cut-out notes, etc.) have been reported in almost all participating countries. These crude forgeries have generally been detected by shopkeepers. No "serious" forgery of euro notes or coins has come to light. Limited quantities of notes and coins with production faults have been detected and withdrawn from circulation.

Banks and shops are no longer facing the problem of a shortage of euros as consumers are increasingly using the notes and coins they have received. The bottlenecks affecting money transport operations are beginning to clear.

Questions have been raised in the press regarding the different dates engraved on the national face of euro coins. It should be borne in mind that what appears on the national face is a matter for the national authorities. Five countries (Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland) have decided to indicate the year in which the coins were minted (1999, 200, 2001 and so on). All the other participating countries have decided to use the launch date of 2002 for the first batch of coins. These arrangements have been accepted by all the participating countries and the Commission. It goes without saying that all euro coins are legal tender throughout the euro area. In some countries the media have reported potential allergies due to the nickel used in the 1-euro and 2-euro coins.

It is worth recalling that the metal composition of euro coins was decided by a Council Regulation in 1998 that followed extensive discussions. Nickel is widely used in national coins in Europe.(1) It is also used in third-country coins such as the five-cent piece in the United States. The issue of potential allergies from nickel was raised at the time by the Commission departments and two scientific studies were carried out. Although no conclusive scientific evidence against the use of nickel was produced, it was decided to look for alternatives. While the initial plan was to use nickel in five euro coins (10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euros), it was finally decided to use nickel only in the latter two, which demanded a very high level of security.(2) As a result, 92% of euro coins (in terms of the number of coins in circulation) are nickel-free, as opposed to 25% of the national coins in circulation. The nickel used in 1-euro and 2-euro coins is essentially contained inside the alloy and not on the surface, thus limiting skin contact. Since nickel is used widely in national coins, there is some doubt as to whether reports of allergies due to contact with euro coins are to be trusted as it is very difficult to distinguish between the two.

The changeover to the euro is now entering the home straight.

(1) For example, four out of eight national coins in Germany, four out of five in Belgium, nine out of ten in France and seven out of nine in Spain contain nickel.

(2) The 1-euro and 2-euro coins have a higher face value than the rest and are, therefore, more susceptible to forgery. In order to ensure a high level of protection, they are the only coins in the world to use bi-metal technology (inner and outer parts) where the inner part consists of three different superimposed metals. For technical reasons, nickel had to be used since other metals do not guarantee an equivalent level of quality.

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