Poll finds majority of Europeans feel baffled by the euro

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The Independent Online

Europe's single currency will be in shoppers' hands in just four months' time but a fifth of them still have no idea that they can use it abroad, and two-thirds think they will be cheated during the change-over.

A huge proportion of the population of the 12 participating countries still "fails to understand the very meaning of the single European currency", according to a survey conducted by Eurobarometer for the European Commission.

Twelve per cent of those polled believed that the euro would not immediately be accepted in the other Eurozone countries and 8 per cent had no idea of the cross-border concept, according to the survey. Two thirdswere afraid of abuses and price hikes when notes and coins are introduced on 1 January next year.

The survey polled 6,543 Europeans in the 12 countries switching to the euro.

The findings came as France's Finance Minister, Laurent Fabius, launched a train full of accountants on a nationwide tour to prepare people for the arrival of euro notes and coins.He was forced on to the defensive by the fears that shops were raising prices of goods as basic as milk and bread in the run-up to "E-day" next year.

"Inflation as a whole is under control, but there are some abuses, with the euro often serving as a false pretext," Mr Fabius said at the Euro-train's inauguration ceremony in Paris. He said a team of 300 officials was carrying out regular checks on prices of more than 20,000 goods and services across the country, and pledged that any blatant cheating would be punished.

On a more positive note, 73 per cent of those polled knew the date of the introduction of notes and coins.