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The New Europe: A Stronger Euro

In this occasional series, we will follow public opinion in the old and new member countries of the European Union, and report on the emotional economy of the quickly evolving new Europe.

A year ago, the European Union took a historic step toward transforming itself into a major world player when it introduced a common currency in 12 of 15 member countries. Despite strong internal and external skepticism, these countries gave up part of their economic sovereignty and introduced the euro. Today, the euro is a trusted currency, trading about 5% higher than the U.S. dollar.

European political leaders made an equally historic decision in December 2002, inviting 10 candidate countries to join the European Union by next year. In 2004, the European Union will have 25 member countries with a combined population of more than 450 million, and will communicate in 21 official languages. As EU leaders like to emphasize, only China and India will have a larger population than the European Union.

Gallup has been tracking European public opinion for the last three decades, and is now the EU's lead contractor assessing public opinion in the new member and candidate countries. In this series, we will report on various Gallup surveys that have been commissioned and released by the European Union. Today's article will examine how people in the EU nations feel about the introduction of the euro.

Euro After One Year

Despite all former misgivings, the overwhelming majority of Europeans feel that "the adoption of the euro by 12 countries is and will remain, one of the major events in the European Union's history." According to a Flash Eurobarometer (small-scale monthly surveys) survey of 12,000 Europeans (roughly 1,000 respondents in each of the 12 euro countries), two-thirds said the statement corresponded with their opinions "absolutely" or "quite well." Eighty percent of Italians, and even half (52%) of Germans (who were very hesitant to give up their national currency), feel this way after the first year. In addition, 82% of respondents feel that they were "very" or "fairly" well informed about preparations for introducing the euro.

Nothing better symbolizes the integration of the euro into daily life than the fact that in shopping situations, more people are already calculating in euros than in their old national currencies. Forty-two percent of respondents say they always calculate mentally in euros, and 25% are calculating as often in the new currency as they are in the old. Germans are the only exception; 40% of them say they are still doing mental conversions between the deutsche mark (DM) and the euro, and 31% say they are calculating equally as often in the DM and the euro.

Ambivalence About the Euro

Despite these positive indications about the transition from old currency to new, the feeling all over Europe is that this large-scale conversion was a detriment to consumers. In some countries (such as Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany), 9 in 10 respondents feel this way. Yet, in most countries, between 70% and 80% believe that "the euro is, or will soon become, an international currency like the dollar." (Again, Germany is the exception: only 55% of Germans believe this will happen.)

Three EU countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Great Britain -- have not adopted the euro yet. In November, support for the euro stood at 51% in Denmark and 55% in Sweden. Both countries are already preparing for referendums on this issue. In Great Britain, 28% support introducing the euro and there is still no chance of a referendum to adopt the euro over the British pound.

Opinion on the Euro in Future EU Countries

While EU membership and the introduction of the euro are technically not closely related, support for the introduction of the euro is already high in the 10 future member countries. On the average, 67% of residents in these countries approve of such a move. Slovenia (85%), Poland (71%), and Hungary (70%) are the most enthusiastic. Emotional ambivalence about the euro is reflected in the answers to a different question. When asked about their fears relating to EU membership, 44% of those in the candidate countries mentioned the end of their national currency.

The euro's 15% gain against the U.S. dollar last year has shown to those who doubted that it can fulfill the high expectations established at its introduction. Wim Duisenberg, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB) expressed the hope in 1999 that the euro will "become a unifying symbol for the people of Europe." The ECB "will do [its] utmost to make the euro a currency in which European citizens will be able to place their trust."

Given the fact that a modern currency is basically trading on the trust of the businesses and consumers using it, these largely positive poll results indicate the euro has already accumulated the solid emotional capital of a gold reserve.

Note: The surveys quoted above have been all commissioned by the European Union.

The standard Eurobarometer was established in 1973. Each survey consists of approximately 1,000 face-to-face interviews per member state (except Germany: 2,000, Luxembourg: 600, and the United Kingdom: 1,300, including 300 in Northern Ireland).

Flash Eurobarometer are ad hoc thematical telephone interviews conducted at the request of any service of the European Commission or other EU institutions. Candidate countries' Eurobarometers have been carried out since October 2001 in all the 13 countries applying for membership, coordinated by The Gallup Organization. Its methodology is almost identical to that of the Standard Eurobarometer.

Between Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, 2002, 7,531 Europeans were polled. Two distinct sub-sample groups were polled with appropriate questionnaires and answers were processed separately. Sample sizes were 6,020 people for the 12 countries of the euro zone, and 1,511 people for the three non-euro countries. The third set of surveys conducted in September-October 2002 in the 13 candidate countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey. An identical set of questions was asked of representative samples of the population aged 15 and older in each candidate country. The achieved sample sizes for each of the candidate countries were roughly 1,000, with the exception of Cyprus (500) and Malta (500).


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