The great monetary change for which 2002 will be remembered, the adoption of the single European currency – the euro – came into effect at midnight yesterday. The automatic teller machines of banks in Greece and Finland were the first to dispense the new currency to the 320 million people living in the eurozone’s 12 countries, setting in motion the gradual replacement of national currencies. With banks and large shops closed, it was Greece’s numerous corner kiosks and fast food outlets that were the first to accept the new currency from customers. Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who made Greece’s entry into the eurozone his government’s top priority, was the first Greek to draw the new currency, using an ATM set up at the Bank of Greece. A special ceremony there included music from EU member states and videos of the history of the drachma and the ancient Greek myth of Europa. There were also links with other parts of Athens, such as the Acropolis, and other Greek cities combining celebrations to welcome the new year and the new currency. Holding up the euro notes triumphantly, Simitis noted that Greece now had one of the world’s strongest currencies. «The circulation of the euro today means a huge change in our country’s economy. Never has such a big change been effected,» he said. «Our way of life will change gradually. It will change radically. With the step we have taken we have achieved greater capabilities, more opportunities for our country’s development.» Simitis noted also that the euro «constitutes a signal event in the cooperation of European peoples in the course toward European unification.» President Costis Stephanopoulos commented that with Greece’s entry into the eurozone, the country was entering a new era of expectation and hope but also fears and concerns. «It is the responsibility of all of us to make use of the new potential to the benefit of our peoples,» he said. Opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, in his New Year’s message, said: «This is a station in the course of the new Europe that is gradually taking shape. It is a daring and decisive step toward its true union.» Communist Party chief Aleka Papariga, whose party is against the euro, commented: «It is a useful tool for the few, to collect greater wealth, but it will also constitute a useful tool for the many, for all those who need to pass from delusions to the great reality of action.» The parity between the old and the new is 340.75 drachmas for each euro. People will be able to use both currencies for the next two months, until February 28. Drachmas may be exchanged, without commission, at any commercial bank until then. After March 1, drachma coins will be exchangeable at Bank of Greece branches and tax offices until March 1, 2004, and bank notes at the Bank of Greece until March 1, 2012. It is also worth noting that the parallel use of the drachma and euro applies only to cash, while credit card bills and checks will be issued in euros only. Travelers will be able to use euros issued in any of the 12 countries anywhere in the eurozone.