Don't scrap the euro cent, say French, fearful of price rises

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The Independent Online

A Belgian proposal to scrap low-denomination euro cent coins has sparked a powerful reaction from the leading French consumer group which warned that the move would bring increased prices.

The warning from the Union of French Consumers (UFC-Que Choisir) comes amid indications from the European Central Bank that France has become the principal laundering market for fake euro notes.

Alain Bazot, the chairman of UFC, said a Belgian proposal to do away with 1 and 2 cent coins would inevitably lead to a similar move in France. Belgian businesses claim they lose time counting the small coins. One cent is worth about 0.6 pence.

"We would be opposed to the coins being taken out of circulation because prices would inevitably be rounded up.

"European countries have different standards of living. In the northern countries, the cents have hardly any value. France is on the cusp between the north and south and what goes in Paris or Lille does not apply in rural Provence," he said.

Earlier this week, the Banque de France warned that French consumers' confidence in the euro is being threatened by widespread counterfeiting of notes. It said 300,000 fake notes had been seized in the first six months of this year.

The bank said the €50 note was most frequently copied, followed by the €20 and €200. But Nicolas-Jean Breton, a lecturer in public finances at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris, said the trend should not be seen as alarming.

"There are no more fake euros around in France than there were fake francs. What seems to be happening, however, is that counterfeiters consider France an easy place to put their notes into circulation," said M. Breton.

According to international police statistics, more than one and a half million fake euro notes have been discovered and taken out of circulation in the past two years out of nine billion real notes in circulation.

French police say they have traced some counterfeiting to the Paris region and the north of France but most fake notes are made in eastern Europe.