Slovenia opens for business in euros

LJUBLJANA (AP) – Andrej Belinec searched his pockets for some small tolars for a cinema ticket after a cashier told him she simply doesn’t have enough euros for the change for his 10,000 Slovene tolar note – about -42. Such glitches were expected in Slovenia as businesses opened yesterday and began trading in euros – Slovenia’s new currency as of January 1- on the first working day of the new year. Both currencies are in use for two weeks, with customers allowed to pay in tolars or euros, but the government says people should receive change only in euros. That has put pressure on retailers to do some quick arithmetic – converting 239.64 tolars to 1 euro. But no major problems were reported, with banks and ATM machines operating normally. Slovenia became the 13th nation using the single European currency after meeting the European Union’s economic criteria. It is the only one of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 to meet the requirements so far. The government hailed it as the biggest national achievement since this former Yugoslav country of 2 million joined the EU. A recent EU survey showed two-thirds of Slovenes are happy to adopt the new currency, seeing it as a final step in becoming a part of the European mainstream. The tolar was introduced in 1991, when Slovenia seceded from the Yugoslav federation. Slovenia has traditionally been the most prosperous among the ex-Yugoslav republics. Its inflation is 1.9 percent, lower than Germany’s. Economic growth was 4 percent last year, and expected to climb to 4.8 percent in 2006 – well above the EU’s average of 1.4 percent. The average monthly salary is -1,220 (US$1,600). The euro is not such a novelty for Slovenes – they often travel and shop in neighboring Italy and Austria, which use the currency. And all prices and services in Slovenia have had dual pricing since March 2006. However, Slovenes worry that conversion to the euro will make everything more expensive. The Consumers’ Association has published a list of retailers who have already raised prices and has advised customers to avoid them. The government pledged to monitor and control unjustified price hikes.

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