This Europe: Living with euros but still thinking in francs

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The Independent Online

One year on, France has learnt to live with the euro – but still thinks in francs. The Germans remain deeply attached to the vanished deutschmark but are slowly, according to the polls, beginning to accept the euro.

One year on, France has learnt to live with the euro – but still thinks in francs. The Germans remain deeply attached to the vanished deutschmark but are slowly, according to the polls, beginning to accept the euro.

My godmother in Belgium (admittedly aged 94) remains baffled by the change. On her kitchen table she keeps a row of the eight different euro coins, on top of small pieces of paper on which she has written their values in Belgian francs. She studies her display for several minutes before making her daily journey to the corner shop. Although half-French, she says she sometimes feels she has become a foreigner in her own country.

In contrast my neighbour in Normandy, aged 56, who has been abroad only once in her life (to Devon) has taken to the euro with great enthusiasm. She even keeps a collection of the different kinds of national euro coins from the 12 eurozone countries. But even she refuses to accept the official calculation that the conversion to the new currency has increased prices, across the board, by only 0.2 per cent.

Wim Duisenberg, president of the European Central Bank, accepts that shoppers are partly right and experts partly wrong.

When it comes to everyday purchases – from a packet of nappies to a glass of beer – the coming of the euro has increased prices sharply, by between 3 and 8 per cent, depending on the goods and the country, recent surveys show. Overall, the euro-generated inflation has been minimal and inflation in the eurozone is running at an acceptable 2.2 per cent.

When all the sums are done, the passage to the euro in 2002 has passed off with remarkable dullness.

It has not produced the nationalistic revulsion, the rioting in the streets, forecast on the wilder shores of euroscepticdom. Nor has it (so far) generated the warm sense of euro-citizenship and re-attachment to the European ideal predicted by the more visionary pan-Europeans.

Most European citizens seem simply to have accepted the euro as a fact of life, which may or may not be a good thing but is here to stay.

A series of schizophrenic results from opinion polls in France represents the mixed feelings. About 60 per cent of French people said they believed the euro was the right way to go but less than 50 per cent said they felt any attachment for the new currency and 78 per cent said they still think in francs and want double-pricing in shops to stay for another year.

The most euro-grumpy country is Germany, but even there positive feelings towards the euro are growing and public support stands at about 48 per cent. Taking the eurozone as a whole, there is a 57 per cent positive rating for the euro – despite widespread annoyance that many shops, bars and restaurants have been allowed to get away with a hike in prices.

Given that the euro was launched into an economic downturn, European officials can be reasonably content with the public response. The fact the euro has floated up to parity with the dollar suggests the currency is finally being taken seriously by money markets.

But the coming of the euro has not prevented the eurozone from following the United States on a generally downward economic curve. It is too early to test the grander macro-economic claims that the euro would increase internal trade and investment and boost growth. But there is no obvious sign so far that the consumption-led British economy has suffered from exclusion from the euro.

Overall, such a dull outcome – a logistical triumph but no overwhelming popular success – offers only low-calibre ammunition to the pro-euro forces who would like to see a referendum on the euro in Britain in the coming year.

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