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Europe

Welsh Town Becomes Temporary Euro Zone

During its international music festival this week, the North Wales town of Llangollen will accept the euro. But Britain is not part of the euro zone, and the decision is generating criticism.

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Britain's first euro zone: the International Musical Eisteddfod

As befits almost anything that has to do with the euro, the decision to declare Llangollen a euro zone has caused controversy and division in this quaint North Wales town of 3,000.

The decision is the brain child of Martyn Jones, the local New Labour member of parliament, who has the backing of Britain's Europe Minister, Peter Hain, and European Commission Vice President Neil Kinnock.

Jones wants to use this week's International Music Festival Eisteddfod and the arrival of 100,000 visitors to promote Britain's first, albeit unofficial, euro zone. Britain, Sweden and Denmark were the only European Union members not to adopt the common currency when it went into circulation earlier this year.

Putting Llangollen on the map

But many shopkeepers and traders complain that they've been forced into the scheme. While they're more than happy to take or exchange euro notes, they object to being made part of Mr. Jones' grand plan. Others support it, hoping it will boost sales during the town's biggest week of the year.

"It has put Llangollen on the map, what with the effects of foot-and-mouth disease and September 11 last year. Hopefully things will improve. Things can only get better in my view," says shopkeeper Julianna Horley.

Tourists this year have arrived in Llangollen with their new common currency, and they clearly do like it that most banks, shops and restaurants are taking the euro.

Why not the dollar?

But if the aim is simply to please the tourists, then why not create a dollar zone, some have asked?

Stuart Davis, who owns and runs a restaurant, says he feels the pro euro lobby and its supporting members of parliament have hijacked the Eisteddfod.

"I've been taking euros since day one in my restuarant," Stuart says. "I had a new cash register put in. I'm a businessman. But the taking of euros is a purely a commercial decision – as is the decision to take American dollars or Australian dollars. Let's not forget that the euro is just another foreign currency. This is the International Musical Eisteddfod, not the Euro Eisteddfod or the European Eisteddfod. If we're going to do something like this, why not choose a currency that belongs to our major visitors." And that's the dollar.

The British Foreign Office and the Treasury are encouraging this year's experiment, as is the European Commission in Brussels. They're talking up the notion that by the end of this week, people in North Wales will see that the euro is a practical currency which holds no mystery or threat.

In that sense, the real debate over the euro is now underway – at least in a small part of Wales.