NEWS

Euro can’t beat nature

More and more Greeks began to use the euro yesterday, on its second day as the European Union’s single currency, but with most shops closed because of the New Year’s holiday today is expected to be the new currency’s first full day as Greece’s legal tender. Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday visited five banks in central Athens to see how the changeover was going. «This is the first working day with the euros. In the banks that I visited the situation was normal, there did not appear to be any special problems,» he said. «Of course, employees and the public have to get used to it and this demands more time than dealing with the drachma would. But I believe, as I saw, that the public wants a smooth and quick changeover and is cooperating,» he added. «This is a great opportunity for us to organize our economy better and we have to work toward this.» But not all of Greece was able to begin getting acquainted with the euro. Gale-force winds blowing in the Aegean prevented ships from sailing to remote islands, including the southernmost tip of Europe, the islet of Gavdos off the southwestern coast of Crete. «We were waiting for the first euros from Hania but we will have to continue doing business in drachmas until the winds die down,» Gavdos’s town clerk, Stefanos Bikoyiannakis, told Kathimerini. On the Koufonissia islets in the Cycladic chain in the Aegean, the few residents also had to keep using drachmas. «Most shops have still not been supplied with euros. We are waiting for the ban on sailings to be lifted to start getting used to the euro,» said one resident, Katerina Psarrou. Pserimos, in the eastern Aegean, was also isolated because of the ban on sailings. «We do not have a bank nor any automated teller machine for us to get any euros. We did not manage to get any from another island, because of the sailing ban. On the other hand, pensioners keep coming and asking what they will have to do to get used to the new currency, because they will get their pensions in euros on January 25,» said coffee-shop owner Nikolaos Tirikilis. On the mainland, the deal between the Bank of Greece and the road toll authorities to have the latter provide change only in euros ran into trouble when many motorists presented big banknotes (such as 5,000- and 10,000-drachma and 20-euro bills) for the 477-drachma (1.40-euro) tolls. The 3.7 million euros in coins soon ran out, forcing employees to start providing change in drachmas until new euro supplies could be delivered. (Editorial Page 2, 5)