Cyprus and Malta adopted the euro on 1 January. All available evidence suggests that the changeover operation is proceeding very smoothly and without any noteworthy incidents. On 2 January, a significant number of cash transactions were already carried out in euro in both countries, and around 40% of citizens had only or mostly euro cash in their wallets and purses.
Since 1 January, the euro is the official currency of Cyprus and Malta, and euro banknotes and coins are therefore now legal tender on both islands.
On 2 January, retailers gave change exclusively in euro in 92% (Cyprus) and 91% (Malta) of all cash transactions effected, according to a survey conducted for the European Commission. In Malta, cash payments were taking place smoothly after a few initial cases of shortage of change at retail outlets, particularly on 1 January when banks were still closed and some customers were using up large denomination banknotes in the old national currency to avoid having to exchange them at banks later. The start of the winter sales on 2 January in Malta also increased the amount of cash transactions but no serious complications were reported.
Asked about which currency they had in their wallets and purses on 2 January, 12% of respondents in Cyprus had only euro banknotes, while an additional 31% were carrying ‘mostly’ euro banknotes, according to the Commission survey. The respective figures for coins were 20% and 26%. In Malta, 42% had only or mostly euro banknotes, and as many as 52% had only or mostly euro coins in their wallets.
As regards cash payments on 2 January, 28% of the Cypriots said they had paid in euro, while 68% still used the national currency. The respective figures for Malta were 36% and 58%. In both cases, the results compare favourably with those of a similar survey conducted when Slovenia adopted the euro in 2007, when only one in five Slovene citizens (19%) paid in euro on the first working day. The dual circulation period during which citizens can still pay in Cyprus pounds and Maltese lire, in parallel with the euro, extends until 31 January 2008 in both countries.
As people are eager to exchange national cash into euro and to withdraw euro cash, some queues at banks and ATMs were reported in both Cyprus and Malta. Some banks have established special counters to facilitate cash exchanges and withdrawals for business customers, in order to reduce waiting times.
Overall, the changeover process appears to have gone according to plan in both countries. Since 1 January, euro banknotes have been available from ATMs (cash dispensers) in both countries. All 550 ATMs in Cyprus and all 154 in Malta were successfully converted to dispense euro banknotes during the first day of the new year, the large majority by noon. In Cyprus, some 50 000 cash withdrawals at ATMs took place on 1 and 2 January, for a total amount of € 5.97 million. In Malta, 64 800 ATM withdrawals were made, totalling € 7.02 million.
In Cyprus, bank branches opened exceptionally already on 1 January to allow for cash exchanges and withdrawals of euro cash. On 1 and 2 January, a total of € 116 million was withdrawn over the counter. In Malta, by contrast, banks remained closed on 1 January, but on 2 January some 38 000 withdrawals or exchanges were made (for a total of € 20.7 million).
Many citizens had also acquired euro cash before € day: in the course of December, Cypriots bought a total of around 105 000 euro coin mini-kits (worth € 17.09 each), while in Malta approximately 160 000 mini-kits (worth € 11.65 each) were sold.
Regarding the conversion of prices into euros, so far only a few limited incidents of undue price increases have been reported in both countries. The authorities are investigating them, and will take action if needed. In Malta, for example, the prices at certain car parks have increased. The authorities have asked those responsible to revert to the former prices within one week, failing which fines will be imposed. Consumers are encouraged to be even more vigilant and assertive during this period than usual.
For more information see DG ECFIN’s website
The Cypriot government has established a toll-free telephone line for questions on the euro: 8000 2008; e-mail: [email protected]; website http://www.euro.cy
The Maltese government has set up a national euro helpline: Linja Ewro 154; e-mail: [email protected]; website: http://www.euro.gov.mt/