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1.  Vice-President Christophersen today received the  interim report of the
    Independent  Expert  Group   on  practical  questions  raised   by  the
    introduction  of  the  ECU as  a  single  currency  established by  the
    Commission in  May 1994.  He thanked  C. Maas  and the  members of  the
    Group for the  quality of the work already carried out. It represents a
    good basis  for the  future work  which will  be taken  forward by  his
    successor, Mr. de Silguy.

2.  Bringing together  a broad  range of  senior figures  from the  private
    sector,  the mandate  of  the Group  is  to define,  in an  independent
    manner, a coherent  approach for the  changeover to  a single  currency
    which is  acceptable to the major  categories of currency users  and is
    in  accordance  with  the  framework  and  calendar  foreseen  in   the
    Maastricht Treaty.

3.  A main conclusion  of the interim report is that public authorities and
    the private  sector should  immediately start  an on-going  dialogue on
    the  main technical  aspects  of  notes and  coins  of the  new  single
    currency, and  the timing  of the  physical introduction  of these  new
    monetary  units.  The point  at which  the  European Central  Bank will
    start using the  new unit  for monetary policy  purpose should be  made
    public as soon as possible. 

4.  Concerning  the timetable for the introduction  of the single currency,
    the Group  expressed a  preference for  the rapid  introduction of  the
    currency in the smallest number  of steps, i.e. the  best approximation
    of a big bang after the necessary initial delay. 

5.  The first  reflections  of  the  group  indicated  a  large  degree  of
    consensus on  several aspects  of the  transition process  to a  single
    currency, as regards

  -   the  necessary  continuity  of contracts  and  legal  obligations  on
      moving to stage III:

  -   the lack of need  to maintain or re-create any form of  an ECU basket
      on moving to stage III, even if  all Member States do not immediately
      participate in the final stage of EMU.

6.  Vice-President Christophersen  welcomed the  decision of  the Group  to
    organise  hearings  in  the  near   future  with  representatives  from
    professional  business organisation  (banks, SMEs,  retailers etc.) and
    with  consumers.  The  hearings  will  help  test  the  feasibility  of
    technical  options for the  changeover process being  considered by the
    Group, and to measure their economic and social acceptability.

7.  In its  future  work, the  Group will  devote itself  to developing  an
    optimal  scenario for practical  changeover to  a single  currency, and
    recommend the preparatory measures which  it considers indispensable to
    assure  success. It  could also  contain suggestions  from the  private
    sector  as regards  organisational issues  which  would facilitate  the
    practical introduction of the ECU.

Notes for Editors

The  Treaty  makes  clear that,  on  the  first  day  of  stage 3  of  EMU,
responsibility for monetary policy  will pass  to the independent  European
Central Bank and  irrevocably fixed conversion  rates will  be set  between
participating national currencies and  the ECU.  At that stage the ECU will
no longer  be a  basket  of Member  States' currencies  but will  become  a
currency  in its own right.   However, the full introduction  of ECU as the
single currency does not need to  take place on the first day of stage 3 of
EMU.

In order to decide how  the ECU will be introduced for the  general public,
the Group has identified two key questions:

1. When  will the  authorities be  ready for the  physical introduction  of
bank notes  and coins denominated  in ECU?   This depends  not only on  the
lead times for printing, minting etc., but also crucially on the  necessary
preparations to ensure public acceptance of the new currency.

2.  When  will  the  ECU  replace  national  currencies  in  the  wholesale
financial markets?   In practice this will to a large extent be dictated by
decisions by the European Central Bank on when it  will start using the ECU
for monetary policy operations.

Depending on the  answers to these  questions, there are  two main  options
for  the introduction  of the  single currency.   Under  the first  option,
these two steps  would take place  at the  same time.   This would yield  a
scenario which  very closely  resembles a  "big bang"  after the  necessary
initial delay.

The second option  involves the introduction of notes and coins denominated
in ECU  takes some  time after  the transformation  of wholesale  financial
markets.   This would create  a transitional period during  which banks and
other  financial  institutions  would still  use  national  currencies  for
dealings  with  individual  customers  but  ECUs  for transactions  on  the
financial markets.   The report suggests a  way of handling this  period so
as to minimise dual accounting for banks.

The  next stage  of  the work  of  the Group  is to  launch  a wide-ranging
consultation  exercise involving meetings  with relevant  groups (including
consumer  representatives,  banks,  small  and  medium  sized  enterprises,
retailers etc.).   This will enable the  Group to gather views  on which of
these  two lead options  would command most support  and on  how to improve
the process to minimise unavoidable  costs and to ensure public support for
the single currency.   It should also raise awareness among  those affected
and therefore stimulate the necessary preparations in the private sector.

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