Changing over to a new currency affects many aspects of a citizen's daily life. Timely and effective communication is therefore an essential task for any Member State planning to introduce the euro, and experience shows that it is also crucial for a successful changeover.
But communication does not stop once euro coins and banknotes are in citizens’ pockets, as the success of the single currency also depends on success in explaining its benefits and how it works to the public.
Communication plays a key role in building consumers’ confidence, and is an important complement to the measures taken in order to ensure transparency and fair conversion of prices before and during the changeover, such as the fair pricing agreements concluded between national authorities and businesses, or the price monitoring schemes designed to ensure that consumers’ unfamiliarity with the new currency is not exploited by businesses for unfair gain.
Information campaigns on the introduction on the euro must aim to ensure that people are able to recognise and use the new currency with full confidence. This involves tailoring messages and tools in order to reach every citizen, including those who are most vulnerable, like the elderly, disabled people and language minorities. Ultimately, as when learning a new language, people should be able to ‘think’ in euro and understand values without having to convert into/from the old national currency. Communication helps citizens assimilate this new ‘language’ and identify themselves with the new currency.
Identification means support. And public support is another key factor in the success of the single currency and its political framework, the Economic and Monetary Union. Explaining what the benefits of the euro are and how EMU works is necessary to win that support. The job of communication therefore does not stop at the end of the changeover process, but must continue well after the replacement of the old currency.
In 2004, the Commission adopted a Communication on an information and communication strategy on the euro and EMU (COM(2004) 552 final), which recognises the need to consolidate public support in the euro-area countries, and to help the newest EU countries to achieve a smooth changeover when the time comes.
One of the guiding principles of the strategy is decentralisation and subsidiarity: since communication is more effective if it goes local, Member States have a leading role in designing and implementing the information campaign on the introduction of the euro in their country, but can count on technical and financial support from the Commission, which provides it under what is known as partnership agreements.
Partnership agreements are voluntary working partnerships concluded between the Commission and those EU countries which are close to introducing the euro and have adopted a euro communication strategy. Under the partnerships, the Commission co-finances specific activities in the strategy, such as public surveys, direct mailings, advertising campaigns, publications, websites, conferences, or euro hotlines, and provides technical support and guidance. The first partnership agreements were signed in November 2005 with Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovenia. Cyprus and Malta followed in May 2006, and Slovakia is expected to be the next country to conclude one by the end of 2007.
The Commission, for its part, carries out a number of activities, with two overarching objectives: one is to increase public knowledge of and support for the euro in those countries where it is already the official currency, and the other is to help EU members which will adopt the euro in the future with their preparations to do so.
All Commission activities, from partnerships to centrally produced publications, fall under the budget of PRINCE, the Information Programme for the European Citizen, born back in 1996 to ensure that funds were ringfenced for key communication priorities such as the euro. The Commission reports twice a year to the European Parliament on the activities financed from the part of the PRINCE budget allocated to the euro and EMU.