The European single currency at last became an economic reality
when it started trading on Monday. More importantly, in three years time
at the latest, euro bank notes and coins will hit the high streets of
the 11 participating countries. The ongoing birth of the euro has
required a massive PR effort on the part of the European Commission.
The man behind it is Frenchman Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the European
Commissioner responsible for economic, monetary and financial
As he admits, his job involves PR more than anything else. ’We have made
the most of the possibilities offered by communication to bring the
(single currency) forward. The Commission is impotent apart from in its
power to propose and persuade,’ he says.
A former international affairs adviser to erstwhile Gaullist prime
minister Edouard Balladur and a career bureaucrat, de Silguy admits his
job as Commissioner in charge of the euro is the biggest PR challenge he
has yet faced in his career. He says: ’We in Europe haven’t created a
currency since the fall of the Roman Empire! Communication was
fundamental in launching the euro.’
In deciding how to appeal to European companies and the general public,
de Silguy sensibly waited until the currency had been given its formal
name in Madrid in 1995. He then invited 500 banking, communications and
political professionals from around the European Union to a two-day,
round-table discussion on how to sell the euro.
The PR battle plan that arose from this brainstorming session was
three-pronged: in the first two years, attack the financial and
multinational corporate sector; then work on small and medium-sized
firms; finally, in the years leading up to 2002, tackle the public.
Two years on, de Silguy is confident that the measures he initiated in
the corporate sector, such as sending newsletters to companies and
co-funding preparation checklists and brochures for multinationals, have
hit the target. ’It is history, because the 1 January 1999 deadline has
been met,’ he says. ’Banks are ready. Big companies are ready.’
Admittedly, according to the Commission’s latest opinion poll - its
six-monthly ’eurobarometer’ - last spring 60 per cent of managers across
the EU felt well informed about the currency. Still, big business was
always more likely to be the easiest target when it came to promoting
the economic benefits of a single currency spanning an area generating
almost 20 per cent of world GDP.
Some smaller businesses remain unconvinced, however, although de Silguy
believes the domino effect will hit them soon.
’If you run a bakery or a tea shop in Brussels, as from 1 January 1999
you are still paid in Belgian francs and you still pay for things in
Belgian francs, so you’re not directly concerned by the advent of the
euro,’ he argues.
’But you are gradually going to become concerned, because your flour or
pastry is going to be supplied to you by a bigger company which has
converted to the euro.’
More significant is the relatively paltry 25 per cent of Europe’s adult
population which describes itself as well informed about the single
It represents de Silguy’s biggest hurdle over the next three years. ’The
challenge is to ensure that the public is well prepared for 1 January
2002, so as not to create any panic, fear or hesitation once notes are
issued,’ he says with Gallic emphasis and concern on his face.
Wary of issuing what could be seen as a PR diktat from Brussels, de
Silguy treads carefully. His directorate has created PR tools to appeal
to the public - brochures, CD-ROMs, a web site, a mobile exhibition and
conference speakers - but has left it up to national governments to use
’I don’t want to be accused of propaganda,’ he says. ’We are here to
help and support. If states want to work with us, then they do it within
the framework of a convention, that way it’s transparent.’
His argument is that national governments are best placed to tailor the
single currency message to their respective populations. So, while the
Italian government invited its population to vote on the design for the
euro coin on national TV, the German authorities sent euro buses up and
down the land to drive the message home.
De Silguy argues: ’Information has to be brought where people expect to
find it; banks, building society and post office counters, social
security organisations, community groups and trade associations - this
is especially important for the blind and the hard of hearing.’
The downside to this decentralised approach is that the 11 participating
countries may reach 2002 with divergent understandings of the single
Indeed, the Commission’s own eurobarometer points to disparities: while
64 per cent of the French population feels well informed about the euro,
a significantly lower portion - 43 per cent - does so in Germany.
De Silguy is less convincing on this: ’The debate that’s been going on
in the press, especially the English language press, has masked
preparation work which in some countries has been more considerable than
one might have imagined,’ he says, defensively.
Unsurprisingly, all the countries in the Euro-zone have brokered
partnership deals with the Commission to use its PR support and funds -
worth half the overall PR budget per country and typically up to five
million euros (pounds 3.5 million). These partnerships are also open to
the EU countries which remain outside the Euro-zone - the UK, Greece,
Denmark and Sweden - but none has chosen to make use of the Commission’s
In the UK’s case, de Silguy is clear: ’There is no communication deal
with the British. The Commission is neither financially nor legally
entitled to communicate there. For the British, passing a convention
with the Commission could be inconvenient on a political presentational
level.’ The Commission’s single currency PR drive in the UK has been
limited to co-financing a Treasury project to publish preparation
brochures for British businesses.
The British example shows how, by decentralising the process and making
countries positively opt into well-funded nationwide single currency
campaigns, de Silguy has arguably made his own PR job easier. He has
created a system whereby the national political will to adopt the single
currency is a prerequisite to the Commission embarking on a PR
Still, his commitment to the single currency project is such that he
thinks the UK will eventually come around, even if it is simply out of
necessity rather than choice.
He says: ’Say the British have not signed up to the euro by 2002; 17
million Britons come to the Continent every year and they will be the
only ones who will be running to banks having to exchange their
And British companies working on the Continent are going to realise that
not having signed up to the euro means they have to pay conversion
costs, so they will be at a competitive disadvantage.’
By which time, de Silguy will no doubt be working his charms
PAVING THE WAY: how it worked in the UK
Despite promises of a referendum on UK adoption of the single currency,
activity in promoting the euro in this country has so far concentrated
on an information campaign aimed at small and medium-size enterprises
(SMEs) co-ordinated through the Treasury’s Euro Preparations Unit
The Government set up the EPU in December 1997 to provide support for
business. Ten ’business preparations for the euro’ factsheets were
launched in June 1998 with a further ten published in September, and 12
regional forums, led by local business representatives were established
to bring together the resources of various organisations such as the
CBI, TECs, trade unions, local authorities and public sector bodies.
On 1 September, the TV advertising phase of the Government’s campaign
was launched with seven commercials featuring the character of Martin
Skinner, owner and manager of an SME. In a range of scenarios, he
robustly reminded staff and business contacts of the importance of the
impending single currency. These and parallel radio and print
advertisements alerted viewers to a mailshot which was sent to the 1.6
million SMEs most likely to be affected by the euro to show them where
to go for essential planning information.
Research conducted at the end of 1998 showed that more than 300,000
requests had been made for factsheets. Awareness of the single currency
among SMEs had risen by four per cent from 90 per cent in May 1998 and
awareness of its start date rose from 11 per cent to 23 per cent.