Retailers win EU deal on euro

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It looks as if the European currency will be introduced to the nation's shops and shoppers on a single day, rather than being phased in over a period of time, after Brussels bowed to pressure from leading European retailers, including Marks and Spencer.

Keith Oates, vice-chairman of Marks and Spencer, said European Commissioners had responded "very favourably" to the concerns of retailers put to them at a recent meeting.

Richard Colvill, Marks and Spencer's finance director, was among seven leading European retailers who argued that the change-over to a single currency had to be implemented with minimum cost and disruption to the retailing community.

At the presentation to four European Commissioners, including Martin Bangemann, the European Commissioner for industrial affairs, the retailers argued for a carefully implemented timetable in the run-up to the introduction of a single currency. The response from the Commissioners suggested a provisional agreement had been reached on how the transition would be handled for shops and stores.

Stores are also worried that the change-over day - "E-Day", as it has been dubbed, for the euro - should not happen on 1 January 2002, the official date on the timetable, when stores are at their busiest with the January sales and still restocking after the Christmas rush. Most want it pushed back to a date in mid-February.

Mark Souhami, chairman of the British Retail Consortium, said: "There seems to be a growing realisation that the concerns we are raising are real ones, and that they need addressing."

The Commission has agreed to set up a working party to discuss how to achieve an orderly transition for consumers and stores. A single currency will be officially introduced on 1 January 1999, but there will be a three- year grace period during which it will be adopted in wholesale money markets before being issued as notes and coins for the nation's wallets.