International Papers

Buddy, Can You Spare a Euro?

Europe’s weekend papers followed the travails of the folks who queued to get their hands on the new euro coins that will become legal tender in 12 European Union countries on Jan. 1, 2002. Euro coin “starter kits” were released in France, Ireland, and the Netherlands on Friday; in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain on Saturday; and in Germany, Greece, and Portugal Monday. The packs were released two weeks early to allow residents to familiarize themselves with the eight new coins, and although they were packaged in plain plastic bags to encourage people to use them rather than keep them as souvenirs, many seemed destined to end up as stocking stuffers. According to Spain’s El País, euro notes will be kept under wraps until Jan. 1 to minimize the chances of forgery, but also because “it’s easier to recognize the bills than the coins.” Although all the eurozone countries will use the same notes, each country will customize its coins, meaning there will be 96 different pieces in circulation, all legal tender in all the euro states. The Timesof London predicted, “The hardest to swallow for the oldest French generation may be the sight of the German eagle circulating among the nation’s currency.” (A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungguide to the national variations noted that Mozart, who appears on the Austrian one-euro coin, “was forever in dire financial straits.”)

National enthusiasm for the new monetary unit seemed to vary according to the strength of the existing currency. According to the Financial Times, the Dutch embrace of the euro “reflects their trading mentality and founder membership in the EU, as well as a long period of effective monetary union with Germany, under which the guilder has been tied to the D-Mark for nearly 20 years.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a German euro hotline spent 30 minutes calming “a distressed caller discussing whether Italy’s participation in the currency union threatened the stability of the euro.” An op-ed in the same paper compared Germany’s “damp enthusiasm” for the euro with the introduction of the deutsche mark in 1948: “By contrast to that currency conversion, German joy over the introduction of the euro is modest at best. Its coins are comfortingly hard, but will the currency itself be as well? Doubts abound.”

Three European Union countries—Britain, Sweden, and Denmark—opted out of the common currency. Britain’s pro-European Observer banged the drum for monetary union, declaring that the euro will help consumers as prices become more transparent between different countries. The paper reported that the price of a music CD varied from 15 euros in Berlin to almost 21 euros in London. A consumer activist told the paper, “There will still be different wages and tax structures in different countries, so we won’t see instant price harmonization.” Several papers reported with surprise that there had been few complaints so far of companies profiting from the currency conversion by rounding up their prices. One exception seems to be the prostitutes of Paris, who, according to Libération, have set their basic rate at 50 euros (328 francs), up from 300 francs. In a more down-market part of the city, a reluctance to make change could lead to a pay cut. A 60-year-old prostitute who previously had a minimum charge of 200 francs (30.49 euros) told the paper she would ask for 35 euros but would settle for 30 if the client balked.

Fighting words: A war of words between India and Pakistan follows last Thursday’s suicide bomb attack on the Indian parliament. The Telegraph  of Calcutta said New Delhi police had identified a “clear connection” between the bombers and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence service. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said Saturday that India had reached the limits of its tolerance and was considering “hot pursuit” against the perpetrators, which was interpreted to mean a possible raid into Pakistani territory. In response, Pakistani daily Dawn quoted President Pervez Musharraf, who condemned Thursday’s attack, as saying: “India just wants one thing. They want to damage us. Anything they want to do in Afghanistan, the purpose is only one: How to do something which will be used against Pakistan.” An editorial in Pakistan’s Frontier Post declared: “The US-led war on terrorism has provided a convenient stick to beat any and all freedom or resistance struggles as ‘terrorist.’ Thereby, those who use this catch-all phrase, hope to persuade the international coalition currently engaged in Afghanistan, to come to their rescue.” This sentiment was echoed in an op-ed in Britain’s Guardian: “The war against terrorism has proved a blessing to governments embroiled in long-running conflicts, especially, though not exclusively, where the rebels are Muslim.” The Times urged the world to focus on the Kashmir situation, noting, “The clear temptation for the American coalition is to treat Afghanistan as entirely separate from terrorism in the Kashmir valley. That is ridiculous.”

All sketched out: After 13 years as the London Timesparliamentary sketch-writer, Matthew Parris is passing on the barbed pen. (The sketch is an irreverent account of events in Parliament—the best are witty and vicious but also informative and perceptive about political trends.) On Saturday, Parris, himself a former member of Parliament, provided a sketch FAQ: Lampooned MPs don’t hate sketchers, “they’d rather be written about rudely, poor lambs, than not written about at all.” Rival sketch-writers confer: “Over tea … we check recollections, help with quotes, pass on tips and try out jokes.” And the job is getting harder as MPs become grayer: “[A]s Parliament drifts away from kitchen-table cognizance, the parliamentary sketch is in danger of becoming a series of theatre reviews of a play nobody has seen and few ever want to.” (Although there’s some fine sketch-writing in Canada, it’s rarely seen in the United States; perhaps the closest equivalent is Dahlia Lithwick’s Supreme Court dispatches in SlatePost your explanations for this journalistic void in “The Fray.”)