Slovene's see euro as sign of success

Photo: European Commission

On New Year's Eve, Slovenia joined the eurozone - the first former communist state, and first of the new EU members, to do so.

Photo: European Commission
Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but Slovenia nevertheless made a smooth transition from tolar to euro on Jan 1, as the 13th member of the eurozone. After midnight, Finance Minister Andrej Bajuk symbolically withdrew euros from a cash machine. By 12:30, half of the country's machines were working, and an hour later, all ATMs were doling out euros. By 4 PM some 770,000 euros were withdrawn from ATMs. Slovenes eagerly withdrew money, causing some machines to run out of money. Success was mixed..

"It's bad. I wanted 40 euros but I didn't get it" said one shopper. Another lady in the center of Maribor tried to get out 40 euros but couldn't. "I tried again but only managed to withdraw 10 euros. I don't think this will be enough, though: ten euros is nothing." Said another "I wanted 40 and I got it - so I'm okay." "I'm handicapped and rely on a wheelchair" said another, "so, because of this I got cash beforehand. That way I don't have to endure the crush in banks over the New Year."

Generally the mood in Slovenia was festive, with many people proud of Slovenia's achievement. Even more so since it was the first, and so far only, new EU member to meet the strict requirments for meeting the Euro. Nevertheless, there was still some concern. According to one poll, nearly 40% of Slovenes were worried that prices would rise with the arrival of the euro. The government worked hard to dispel these concerns, by mandating double pricing - even after the transition - while the Slovenian Consumer Association published a blacklist online, trying to shame sellers who raised prices after the switch.

Among those who took an early spot on the blacklist: Slovenia Post, the large retailer Spar, a park house in Ljubljana, cinemas, and other small businesses. The Association called on consumers to boycott businesses that made unjustifiable price hikes. These sentiments were echoed by European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia:

"Citizens cooperating with authorities, the media cooperating with authorities and with consumer organizations, will fight against the possible abuses in prices. We have the experience of those countries who were able to fight against those abuses that -- in the moment when coins and notes are changed - can create problems in those sectors. We will cooperate with all of you in having a big success with this new currency, with our common currency."

But for most people, it remained a proud moment. A chance for Slovenia to show that it has successfully integrated with the west and that its slow but steady economic reforms have come to fruition. Congratulations also came in from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso:

"Stability oriented macroeconomic policies have allowed Slovenia to achieve a high degree of sustainable convergence. Together with an increasing GDP per head, this has enabled Slovenia to come closer to the European average. And I want to congratulate you for that."