Farewell to the French Franc

In a couple of weeks now, the French people will have to say goodbye to the French Franc. The Euro will come into circulation on January 1, and from February 17, Francs will no longer be accepted in businesses.

What is changing for France? Up to what point does money make up part of the national identity? Nicholas Resseguier is the deputy director of the Banque de France:

I think that it is an important element of identity, that’s for sure … of sovereignty, and it is a reason that I have been a strong supporter of the Euro for a long time, because I think that the building of a communal money in Europe, is an element, is a stage, after others and before, probably, in the news … truly a step to increase the hold on the European consciousness and, it seems to me, to me personally in any case, that it is important that the French and as well the other people who hope for it, become aware that to weigh-in in today’s world, we must be European, we don’t have a choice, otherwise we entirely leave the great world powers to dominate the planet. And if we want to weigh-in in the world, well then we have to build the elements of this European identity. And I hope that money, as it has a very concrete, very day-to-day aspect, will truly help Europeans to feel more European. But that doesn’t mean that they will not feel French, German, Italian, English as well, because there are people today who feel they are Bretons and French, I mean to say, it’s not incompatible. We can keep a commitment to France and also at the same time have a commitment, and a European sensitivity.

For the distribution plan, it’s a job of titanic proportions, there’s no doubt.

In all of France, we will make seven million coins and two and half million notes.

What is complicated is that all of the notes and all of the coins are being changed at the same time, and in the distribution details, what is the most complicated, is without a doubt the management of the coins, because the notes are not very cumbersome.

Mr. Resseguier amuses himself in illustrating what he is saying:

Here, this … what we call a briquette. It’s some French notes that have been destroyed. Eh, so they were destroyed, after they were crushed, and there is a machine which compacts them. And this little briquette, you see, that I have in my hand, in your opinion how much is it worth, in Francs?

– 500 Francs ?

– 500,000 Francs !

It is an illustration of the fact that the distribution of bank notes is not very complicated.

For the coins, it is not as simple. Coins are heavy and cumbersome, in Francs as well as Euros.

However for the coins because they are bulky, we are obliged to pass through intermediaries and in each Departement a secondary centre to stock the coins has been created. And these secondary centres then salvage the … the collections of coins to send them to the banking agencies and to the big businesses and there are real military barracks which were requisitioned for, at the time, assuring the security and also setting up sufficient space.

For the coins, the Francs are going to be recovered first. And after, the coins will be redirected to where they were minted, that is to say, the factory of Pessac in Gironde. It’s a bit like elephants, you know, they go to die where they were born, they say, eh. Ah well, the coins, it’s the same thing. They go to die where they were made, at Pessac, and we will recover … they estimate that we can recover about a third of metal. For the bank notes, on the other hand, no. With the bank notes nothing is recovered.

Security is not the least concern in the whole of this operation.

It’s clearly one of our main concerns. Therefore, to explain to you, every Friday morning there is a meeting with the chief of police, with the principal bankers, the transporters of funds, and every Friday morning with the police, the Gendarmerie, the army, etc. The finishing touches are put on the security for the week. Therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that.

So, I want to say that paradoxically, the period that is beginning is almost more secure than normal because while there are the same temptations, there will be so many security plans that I don’t have any advice to give to any dishonest people, but me, if I were them, I’d wait until the Euro passes.

The change is going to be more or less quick in the different European countries. All of the countries of the Euro are not proceeding similarly. In Germany, the transition from the Mark to the Euro should be made from one day to the next. In France, we have a period of six weeks during which the two currencies will be legal tender. Mr. Ressenguier acknowledges that this will be a difficult period for businesses but he emphasizes that all of the countries in the Euro zone are going to need to cope with these problems:

It’s true. So, well, in Germany, officially in fact, they are doing what is called the Big Bang, that is to say, the first of January everything will be in Euros. In reality it is a bit more … it is more subtle because in reality, businesses will be able to, if they want, continue to accept Marks up to the end of the year 2002, and the banks in particular.

What is desirable in any case is that as quickly as possible in fact we can pass to another currency to simplify every day life for businesses. So we, our ambition, and the plan as it was conceived thus, is that at the end of a week or two weeks there will be almost no more Francs in circulation.

And so, there will be nothing to return to, the Franc will soon not concern anyone but the collectors. Its end is scheduled for 2002, while its long ago origin … In fact, when does the Franc date from?

The Franc dates from 1360 … and it was created at that time to pay the ransom of Jean Le Bon, future king of France, who was a prisoner of the English. And ‘franc’ in fact, it came from ‘franchise’, from liberty. It is in old French, to be "franc" of something, meaning to be free of something. It was for that occasion that the Franc was created.

But now it is the era of the European Union, even if three of the 15 member countries are not adhering to the Euro yet.

We are confident, because there are many partners and actors working in the same direction. If there are little hitches, little problems, it’s inevitable because the operation is of such scale that it can’t be done without small problems, eh, and we are aware of them that’s for sure. But, essentially, we are confident. And we hope that quickly, this currency will be a foundation stone of European culture, and after, it will attract our other European friends who are not already with the Euro, and notably our English friends who we will welcome with pleasure.

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