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Business

Euro Fever

New Year's Eve in Europe will culminate, not just in the usual fireworks, champagne and best wishes, but in the arrival of the euro. With it, the centuries-old dream of a single, united Europe is finally taking shape.

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Big bang at midnight

In his New Year’s address the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he understood people’s fears about the euro and the loss of the deutsch mark, a symbol of the country's post-war recovery. But the introduction of the new currency will usher in better times, Schröder said.

"Many of us will be a bit wistful. The German mark meant a lot to us. We link the mark with memories of good times ", Schröder said. "But you can be sure, even better times are ahead."

Despite reluctance about the euro before he became chancellor in 1998, Schroeder has recently made a series of upbeat statements about the common currency.

He even quoted from a Beatles song in a newspaper article on Saturday, as he cajoled those Germans nostalgic about the loss of the deutsch mark.

"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello," Schröder wrote.

Don’t mix your euros

In the first days and weeks of the new year however, there are likely to be problems related to the changeover. Not enough euro in cash machines, queues and confusion in shops.

Some may find it hard to follow the European Central Bank's request to avoid making cash payments partly in euro and partly in national notes and coins during the transition period, which runs from January 1 to February 28.

A spokesman for the ECB said in an interview to Reuters news agency, making transactions in just one currency during the period when both the euro and national cash are circulating would make life easier for everyone and cut waiting time at the cash till.

"It's just best practice to pay in one currency. If you mix payments, it's more complicated to handle and to give change," the spokesman said.

Newspapers in some euro zone countries have predicted long queues at train stations and supermarkets as people fumble with the new cash.

Not all retailers play ball

And many shopkeepers in Germany seem to be taking a hard line on accepting the new currency as well as the old during the transition period. They are not prepared to accept the deutsche mark after January 1.

Although an agreement sets out that the national currencies should be accepted alongside the euro, retailers are not legally bound to do so in Germany after January 1, when the euro becomes legal tender.

The eleven other members of the common currency had legally obliged retailers to accept both currencies during the transition period . Germany had not, trusting on a promise by the Federal Retail Association to do so voluntarily.

But the consensus is that the confusion will be short lived. As Europe begins counting the hours to launch what will be the continent's most widely used common currency since the Roman Empire, most Germans don’t seem too worried. In fact, most people can’t wait to finally get their hands on the new money.

And at the stroke of midnight, if all the lines of computer code have been written correctly, if all the employees have been drilled and trained, if enough armoured cars have been lined up, cash machines should spring to life and begin dispensing euros.

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