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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Begins Deploying Euros

BRUSSELS, Belgium ? If the launch of the European single currency in 1999 demanded political will, its physical introduction will require brawn from the moment of unveiling last week of the actual notes and coins.

A dozen European countries started moving mountains of the currency to banks Saturday in preparation for January 1, 2002, the day when their 300 million citizens will have their first day-to-day dealings with the single currency.

Just shifting the 50 billion euro coins will be like moving two Eiffel Towers for each member of the euro zone, and then there are the 14.5 billion brand new bank notes to worry about.

As if that weren't enough, national currencies will have to be withdrawn from circulation in the New Year, an operation that will be overseen by the European Central Bank and national central banks but carried out on the ground by police, the army and security firms.

And while the single currency project has taken decades to bear fruit, euro-zone authorities are hoping the rollout of the world's youngest major currency will be pretty much complete within a couple of months.

"It is a huge and unprecedented exercise," said Wilfried Wilms, adviser at the Banking Federation of the European Union, whose 3,000 members span 18 European countries.

The list of things that could go wrong is long, and not just because criminals could disrupt events by forging the new currency or hijacking the vehicles moving the cash around.

Citizens who are already loath to give up their national currencies are unlikely to be won over by the euro if they encounter glitches when they first deal with the currency at banks, shops, vending machines or cash dispensers.

"We have been getting information about the euro for two years now, but no one is ever fully prepared and there are likely to be practical problems for those who use cash," said Beirkko Veikki, a Finnish accountant who works in Helsinki.

European authorities are already working against the clock to ensure things go smoothly.

Banks and the financial sector will be the first to get their hands on the new euro notes and coins, with retailers scheduled to get them from the beginning of December.

Members of the general public will from mid-December be able to buy starter kits, which will contain several euro coins of each denomination.

National authorities have been doing their bit to raise awareness, with Belgium, for example, giving out guides to the approximate cost in euros of everyday household goods.

Still, there is plenty more work to be done, both to prepare the man in the street and to ensure firms are ready in time.

Luxembourg and Belgium are the only countries where a large number of firms have already switched to accounting in euros, according to the latest European Commission surveys.

Moreover, national and regional surveys have tended to show small firms, many of which have limited leeway to absorb the costs of the changeover to the euro, are among the worst prepared for the event.

"When large retailers deal with large suppliers, things will go smoothly, but the challenge will be when they start talking to small suppliers who are not where they would like to be in changing their accounting and IT systems," said Steve Williams, euro program manager at De La Rue, the world's biggest maker of bank notes.

Governments and central bankers are using all the fanfare they can to catch the public's eye before the introduction of euro notes and coins in the hope of getting the bulk of the changeover done as quickly as possible.