SLOVAK postal workers started delivering about 2 million small blue-and-yellow calculators to household mailboxes across the country in mid-November. The Chinese-made devices are intended for a single operation: converting Slovak crowns to euros and vice versa. The calculator is part of a nationwide campaign to prepare the country for the switch to the euro, due to take place on January 1, 2009.
While surveys suggest support for the euro is increasing and Slovaks are becoming more familiar with the European currency, many are concerned about getting used to the new banknotes and coins.
Eighty percent of Slovaks now consider themselves ready for the euro and well-informed about the currency, 15 percent more than in May 2008, according to the latest Eurobarometer, a survey which the European Commission conducts twice a year. The latest results were released this month.
An increasing number of people, 56.6 percent as compared to 52 percent in the spring, are quite happy or very happy that the euro will be introduced in Slovakia; while only 34.8 percent are quite or very unhappy about it, according to an official statement by the European Commission.
The number of people who have seen euro banknotes and coins has increased though their usage appears so far to be little changed since the spring. As for the design of the coins, 65.2 percent, compared to 44.6 percent in the spring, correctly expect Slovakia-minted euro coins to carry nationally distinct designs; however, 51.4 percent, compared to 44.6 percent in spring, erroneously believe the same will be true for banknotes, the commission survey suggested.
Dual price displays continue to be the most recognised way of informing people about the campaign, the EC said.
Igor Barát, the government’s plenipotentiary for the euro, said that the survey suggests that the campaign currently running in Slovakia will undoubtedly meet its goal.
“The campaign is focused on the wide public while particular interest is paid to sensitive groups, seniors, the Roma or physically disabled people,” Barát told The Slovak Spectator. “The campaign has been gradually intensifying: for example, last week saw the distribution of free packages containing euro-calculators and information bulletins.”
According to Barát, advertisements are now running in the media and another free package with information materials will follow in December.
A recent survey by the Slovak Statistics Office suggests that as the date of adoption nears, people’s concerns about getting used to the new banknotes and coins, and telling the difference between them, are growing as well. The Eurobarometer survey, which was conducted in the second half of October, showed that 35 percent of people, 5 percent more than in September, have concerns, according to the SITA newswire.
Barát responded that concerns are growing with the approaching date and that he does not see them as being alarming.
“Over 320 million Europeans have already become acquainted with the new currency, so I am sure Slovaks will manage equally well and without problems,” he told SITA.
However, according to the EC, inflation expectations are mixed with almost 65 percent expecting price increases when the euro is introduced, 11 percent fewer than in spring this year.
The Statistics Office on November 19 said that the Slovak public is primarily interested in what impact the adoption of the euro will have on their standard of living and whether it will be reflected in prices.
In late October, 48 percent of respondents believed that introduction of the euro would not have any impact on their households while 36 percent expected their standard of living to decline, according to an official release by the Slovak Statistics Office.
As for access to information about the euro, the Statistics Office’s survey suggests that 88 percent of respondents said the available information on the new currency was sufficient or more sufficient than insufficient, while 90 percent said the information was comprehensible.
According to Barát, the campaign has met its main challenges.
“We have achieved a pretty high rate of familiarity with the euro among citizens, even when compared to other countries during the pre-adoption period,” Barát told The Slovak Spectator.
The free call centre handles more than a thousand calls by private citizens as well as businessmen each week, Barát said. Anyone can reach the centre by dialling 0800 103 104, toll-free.
The types of question most frequently asked by callers depends on when the call is made; the questions are constantly changing, said Barát.
“Currently most questions pertain to the distribution of the free packages containing the calculator, while in July they were mostly about the conversion rate, and in August the rules for dual pricing,” Barát said.
Meanwhile, the Pravda daily reported that three days after the postal service had started distributing the euro calculators, approximately 300 people had complained that theirs did not work. Barát told the daily that any malfunctioning calculators which people might have received will be replaced.
Money, money, money
To help ease the country towards the euro, so-called euro starter packs will go on sale from December 1. The pack will consist of 45 euro coins with Slovak motifs: two €2 coins, six €1, eight each of €0.50 and €0.20, six €0.10 coins, and five each of €0.05, €0.02 and €0.01 coins, National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) spokeswoman Jana Kováčová told The Slovak Spectator in an earlier interview.
Altogether, 1.2 million starter packs are being produced and distributed.
People will be free to buy as many packs as they choose; Slovak Post and the NBS will be selling them for Sk500, Kováčová said. The NBS consulted with banks over how many starter packs to produce; they in turn communicated with their clients when making estimates, she added.
One of the oldest continuously operating mints in the world, the Kremnica mint in central Slovakia, minted the first euro coins bearing Slovak national symbols on August 19.
The mint plans to produce 500 million Slovak euro coins with a total face value of €167 million by December 15.
The euro currency has eight coins, the obverse sides of which each country joining the eurozone is entitled to decorate with its own national symbols.
Slovaks were given the opportunity to vote for their motifs in a nationwide poll organised by the NBS in 2005 in which 140,653 citizens voted via the NBS website, by sending SMS text messages, or by making calls.
The national symbol of the double-barred Lorraine cross was the most popular, receiving 33,068 votes, followed by Kriváň peak with 24,589 votes. Bratislava Castle got 21,792 votes.
As a result, the obverse of the €1 and €2 coins will have a Lorraine cross on three hills while the €0.50, €0.20 and €0.10 coins will carry the image of Bratislava Castle.
Kriváň peak will decorate the smallest euro coins, with nominal values of five euro cents, two euro cents and one euro cent.