Europe wraps up Euro launch
LONDON, England -- Nine European countries will bid farewell to their national currencies at midnight on Thursday.
Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain all decided to extend a period of dual circulation by two months from January 1.
The Netherlands, Ireland, and France have already made the euro their exclusive legal tender.
Despite Thursday's deadline, observers say many of the currencies have already vanished into history -- traded in for euros, lost down sofas, taken home by foreigners, or hoarded as mementos.
The percentage of transactions carried out in euros is "almost 100 percent," European Central Bank spokeswoman Regina Schueller told The Associated Press.
While officials express relief over the smooth transition, some Europeans are preparing fond farewell ceremonies for their national cash.
The Italian government is asking people to toss their lire in Rome's Trevi Fountain in a ceremonial gesture. The money will go to the Red Cross and to fund a "Monument to the Lira."
In Germany, Finance Minister Hans Eichel is to hand the dies and printing plates used to make marks to a museum.
Bankers and government officials say they do not expect a last-minute rush to banks.
The Netherlands, which phased out the guilder on January 28, saw only a slight increase in exchanges in the last 48 hours. Ireland said goodbye to its pound on February 9, and France bid adieu to the franc on February 17.
Though the old cash will not be legal tender for purchases, it can still be exchanged at branches of countries' national banks.
Terms for trading in old money vary from country to country.
In Belgium, for instance, coins can be turned in until 2004 and bills indefinitely. After February 28, however, private banks may either refuse or charge a fee.
While the change may nearly be over for the public, armoured car companies and banks are still busy transporting the last of the old money to central banks, where it is destroyed.
But large amounts may never be exchanged. Of some 49 billion German coins put into circulation, some 20 billion are not expected to be turned in, Peter Walter, chief cashier at Germany's Bundesbank central bank, told AP.
"A huge amount of that will be one penny, two penny coins, so the value of those 20 billion coins will be very low," he said.
France bids farewell to the franc
February 18, 2002
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