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The Single European Currency

Finnbarr P. Murphy Compaq Computer Corporation

Abstract
By now we are aware of the Year 2000 problem. However, enterprises doing business in or with European counties have to contend with another major software issue, the introduction in January 1999 of a new single European currency called the euro. This article is a brief introduction to the euro and the impact that its introduction will have on operating systems and applications.

Introduction
In 1998, the third stage of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was launched with the establishment of a European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany to manage the introduction of a new single pan-European currency. The name chosen for the basic denomination of this currency was the euro.

The introduction of the euro will be one of the major economic events in the next decade. A common currency will contribute significantly to the further economic integration of the participating countries. It will increase market transparency by making prices more easily comparable. Pan-European trade will become more attractive as trade and investment will no longer be exposed to exchange-rate risks, and the costs associated with currency conversion will be eliminated. Eleven countries qualified for initial membership of the EMU: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and The Netherlands.

On January 1, 1999, the rate of conversion between the euro and the currencies of the eleven participating countries will be irrevocably fixed, and the ECB will begin the administration a single monetary policy. On this date, the euro, in non-cash form, will become legal tender in these countries. This means that the euro will be usable for non-cash transactions such as checks and credit transfers.

On January 1, 2002, new euro banknotes and coins will be put into circulation. Over a period of time, determined by each participating country, notes and coinage in the national currency will be withdrawn from circulation. By July 1, 2002, euro notes and coins will be the only legal tender in the participating countries.

Currency Symbol

The European Commission has introduced a new currency symbol to represent the new currency and has registered the currency code EUR with the ISO 4217 (Currency Codes) Maintenance Agency as representing this currency.

The new currency symbol is essentially a three-quarters circle with two horizontal crossbars as shown below:

EURO
Support for the euro currency symbol in computer systems and applications means the ability to input, display, print, store, and retrieve the symbol. This requires a small number of changes to operating systems and various international standards.

The Unicode Standard and ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993 (UCS) included a symbol called the EURO-CURRENCY SIGN in the block of currency symbols at code position 0x20a0, and a corresponding glyph "CE" consisting of an interleaved "C" and "E" with the "E" being lower and more to the right than the "C". The meaning of this symbol was recently clarified and declared to represent the ECU (European Currency Unit).The ECU is an existing, mainly paperless, currency used within the European Union. Its value is based on a basket of national currencies. One ECU will be equivalent to one euro. Upon the introduction of the euro, use of the ECU will be phased out.

In order to represent the euro currency, a new symbol called "EURO SIGN" was added to ISO/IEC 10646-1 in the block of currency symbols at code position 0x20ac, and a new glyph representing this symbol was registered in the ISO/IEC 10036 Glyph Registry.

Images of the EUROCURRENCY SIGN and EURO SIGN glyphs, and the new notes and coinage may be viewed at http://www.euro.eu.int/euro/html/entry.html.

The Final Committee Draft ISO 8859-15 (Latin9) standard (nicknamed Latin0 because it updates Latin1 with some forgotten French and Finnish characters) replaces the code-point for the generic international currency symbol (0xa4) with the euro currency symbol.

The HTML 4.0 specification defines the entity "€" ("€") as the euro currency symbol.

Support for the euro is planned in the next major release (V1.2) of the Java Development Kit (JDK). Before then, support will be provided in a maintenance release (V1.1.7) of the JDK because of the immediate need for such support. The specification of the java.lang.Character class was updated to include the euro currency symbol.

The X11R6.4 Sample Implementation included support for the euro currency symbol in Public Patch Number 2. The euro symbol is defined in X11/keysymdef.h. However, many of the fonts in the Sample Implementation use ISO8859-1 encoding which does not include support for the euro currency symbol.

A large number of font vendors have produced new fonts which include the euro glyph. For example Adobe Systems has developed a number of Type 1 Postscript fonts. These are available for free download at http://www.adobe.com/type/eurofont.html.

Most operating-system vendors are planning to include at least basic support for the new currency in their next major release. Typically this support will include the following:

  • A set of UTF-8 locales which will include support for the euro symbol
  • Extensions to the X Window System font library to enable display of these locales
  • Modification of locale database and resource files to support the new UTF-8 locales
  • Input method and printing support for the euro symbol as required

The complete set of UTF-8 locales will probably not be supplied in the first release containing support for the euro currency symbol. Expect to see UTF-8 locales for those countries that are part of the European Monetary Union first.

Impact on Applications

The impact of the introduction of the euro currency is essentially a software issue - only systems that process financial information in one of the participating national currencies are affected by the euro changeover.

For organizations doing business in any of the participating countries, modifying applications to accommodate the euro is of the highest priority - probably even more than the Year 2000 problem because of the January 1, 1999 introduction date. The Year 2000 problem is basically a technical problem, whereas the euro currency changeover requires additional functionality in applications.

Where the impact of the euro currency introduction will be felt most is in large multinational companies, stock and bond markets, and all levels of the financial markets. This will affect non-European banks, financial institutions, and businesses also.

Examples of applications that are affected include:

  • Accounting systems
  • Invoicing and billing systems
  • Payroll systems
  • Fixed asset systems
  • Financial planning systems
  • Enterprise resource planning systems
  • Treasury management systems.

Generic software such as Microsoft Office and Lotus SmartSuite will also have to be upgraded. Many spreadsheets dealing with financial information will have to be redesigned.

Conversion between the euro and a participating national currency will cause a rounding error and a loss of precision. Specific legal requirements for expressing amounts in Euro and for converting between national currencies have been established, and applications will have to be modified to ensure that these requirements are fully implemented. Of particular significance are rounding errors caused by cumulative data operations. Conversion between two national currencies must be via the Euro. The use of inverse exchange rates to convert amounts between a national currency and the Euro is not permitted. Many existing applications convert currencies using cross rates and inverse rates. Such applications will require extensive modification.

Applications that were designed to work with a national currency with no decimals will need to expand the currency field to work with decimals since the euro currency includes cents. There are 100 cents to the euro. Such countries include Spain, Belgium and Italy.

It may be difficult to display the euro and a national currency simultaneously, as required during the transition period (January 1999 to mid-2002), when both the euro and national currencies are valid legal tender (dual currency), because of a shortage of screen and printed report space. Some applications may require a major redesign to comply with this requirement.

Many applications use some sort of threshold value to define various actions. For example, a business may charge one shipping charge for orders under $500.00 and a different charge for orders over $500.00, with the application automatically calculating the shipping charge. Such thresholds will have to be identified and changed. Other common thresholds used in applications include authorization levels, data validity checking, and exception report generation.

It may not be possible to change all applications over to the euro at the same time. This means that applications will have to communicate with applications that are not euro-compliant. Many enterprises have links to systems belonging to other enterprises. In this case, the changeover to the euro requires careful coordination between the various enterprises.

At some time, enterprises will have to convert over to the euro currency completely. When this occurs, a considerable amount of historical data will probably also have to be converted from the national currency to the euro.

Keyboards

Keyboard standards distinguish three main levels of functionality:

  • Level 1 Press the "m" key to produce the character "m".
  • Level 2 Press the Shift key and the "m" key simultaneously to produce the uppercase character "M".
  • Level 3 Press the AltGr key and the "e" key simultaneously to produce the euro symbol.

The European Commission is determined that the euro currency symbol euro will have a prominent i.e. visible and easy to use, placement on user's keyboards, and has issued two proposals.

The short-term proposal is for all Latin and Greek alphabet-based keyboards to place the euro currency symbol on the "E" keycap (key D 03 on Level 3). By simultaneously pressing the "AltGr" (The Right Alt key) and "E" keys, the euro currency symbol is generated. Many existing European keyboards use this type of engraving. This solution is common to all major types of keyboards, is simple to implement, and is easy to remember because of the association of E with the euro. However, this proposal causes problems for written Irish (Gaeilge) and some other languages. A number of vendors are using AltGr+4 for Irish and United Kingdom keyboards, AltGr+5 for Greek Latin and Hebrew keyboards, and AltGr+u for Hungarian and Polish keyboards. On keyboards with no AltGr key, the euro currency symbol may be produced by the sequence Ctrl+Alt+E.

A new draft of the ISO/IEC 9995-3 keyboard standard is being balloted. This includes the euro in the common secondary layout and thus provides for the placement of the euro in those keyboards where the primary layout does not include the euro.

The long-term proposal is to introduce a new keycap which will be placed in the same location on all major keyboard layouts. This would be a level 1 key. The proposed location is under the Carriage Return key, to the left or right of the Shift key located right under the Carriage Return key. A number of vendors have already introduced keyboards conforming to this proposal.

Printers

The way the euro currency symbol is handled by a printer will depend upon the operating system and the particular printer capabilities. Since the majority of existing printers do not have built-in support for the euro currency symbol (i.e., in their resident fonts) most operating system vendors will deploy a software approach using a downloadable font. In essence, the euro currency symbol will be treated as a small graphic in a font which can be downloaded to the printer whenever the euro currency symbol is to be printed. Printing fonts as graphics instead of using a resident font may result in slower printing.

Many font vendors have made the new euro currency symbol available either as a standalone glyph which precisely matches the definition of the symbol as published by the European Commission, or as a glyph that is built into a typeface library and which matches the characteristics of a specific font. This arrangement gives users the choice of using either the precise symbol or a modified symbol which matches their favorite font.

By mid-1999, expect most new printers to have support for the euro currency symbol built into their resident fonts.

Further Information

The following documents are available for download at http://www.ipso.cec.be/y2keuro/euroit.htm:

  • Preparing Financial Information Systems for the Euro, 12/15/97, European Commission, Brussels
  • Recommendation for the Placement of the Euro Sign on Computer Keyboards and Similar Information Processing Equipment, V1.5 (6/19/1998) , European Commission, Brussels.
  • The Introduction of the Euro and the rounding of currency amounts, Europaper N.22.
  • Preparing Information systems for the Euro, 9/25/97, European Commission, Brussels.

 

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First posted: 20 October 1998 ah
Last changed: 22 October 1998 ah
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