Europe.gif (3521 bytes)The Euro

After years of hubbub and ballyhoo, On Jan. 1, 2002 the euro became an actual currency, with real bills and coins you can spend on real European stuff, and is changing the way healthcare technology companies do business in the Old World.

The European Union’s new monetary unit was launched in 1999 for use in commercial and money market transactions and to date has replaced the currency in 12 European countries — Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Greece and Ireland. The is the largest monetary changeover the world has ever seen.

The single currency was proposed to strengthen the competitiveness of goods and services produced by European Union countries. “The introduction of a single currency should stimulate intra-Community trade as a result of the drop in exchange transaction costs,” says the official euro Web site. “It will encourage growth of production, income and employment and restrain inflation.”

Bank fees stabilized in December when the EC required banks to charge the same rate for cross-border payments made in euros that the banks charged for domestic transactions.

Healthcare is just one of the multitude of industries affected by the switch. The Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, set up a euro project office and Web page, which states, “all aspects of the hospital’s operations will be affected; POS [point-of-sale] outlets such as the coffee shop and florist, back of house operations such as purchasing and all non-monetary areas such as medical wards and laboratories.”

Germany made the euro its only legal tender on Jan. 1, which created pre-New Year havoc as people frantically exchanged marks for euros, forcing some banks to lock their doors amidst near-riot conditions. The Dutch guilder is scheduled to be officially retired January 28, while most other euro zone countries’ currencies will remain legal until the end of February.

Overall adoption progressed quickly and smoothly. By Jan. 5, nearly 55 percent of the adopting countries were spending euros, even with shortages of coins and bills. Every euro coin carries a common European face on one side and an individual member country face on the opposite site, similar to the new U.S. quarters. There are seven euro notes in different colors and sizes. The 14.5 billion banknotes look the same throughout the currency’s spending area, which stretches from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle.