New Year's Day is the first anniversary of the euro's first use in cash transactions, and Europeans are increasingly complaining about price increases for everyday items that came with the switch.
One of those complaining is Europe's top central banker, who said he is upset about being gouged on parking fees. He also conceded that bank officials were not fully honest about the link between the euro's launch and some price increases.
"We were very reluctant to admit that, indeed, the switch-over did somewhat act to increase prices," European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg said in a Dutch television interview last week. "We should have been more honest about it."
Duisenberg said such candor would have helped him sell his belief, generally backed by economists, that overall inflation because of the euro was "very limited."
But he conceded that the bigger picture has masked sharp increases in some areas, such as restaurant meals, newspapers and chocolate bars. Those are the items people are likely to remember because they buy them frequently, Duisenberg said in another TV interview.
In Frankfurt, where the ECB is based, Duisenberg was dismayed to find he had to pay one euro, equivalent to $1.04, to park at the main train station -- a 93 percent increase from the pre-euro price of one German mark.
"Naturally that also annoys me as ECB president," he told Germany's Sunday tabloid Bild am Sonntag.
Before the introduction of the euro for everyday use, the common currency had been used in electronic transactions since Jan. 1, 1999.
Duisenberg and European Union officials previously said that introduction of the euro increased inflation by as much as 0.2 percentage points. Even then, they usually played down the effect as being small and difficult to measure.
"It's not a question of honesty but of how we communicated," ECB spokesman Manfred Koerber said Monday.
Consumers are increasingly annoyed by the price increases that occurred when merchants or service providers rounded up prices in the conversion.
A December poll of 12,000 people for the European Commission, the EU's executive body, showed that 84.4 percent of those surveyed in the 12 countries using the euro thought prices had been rounded up to the disadvantage of consumers. The number was up from 67.3 percent in January 2002.
On Monday, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica pointed to sharp increases in the prices of some products -- 6.6 percent more for diesel fuel, 45 percent more for tomatoes and 40 percent for the clams that are key to spaghetti alle vongole.
Duisenberg complained on Dutch television that the euro was being made a scapegoat.
He noted that vegetable prices have risen because of bad weather in Southern Europe. Many merchants also traditionally choose New Year's as the time to raise prices, while some items, such as cameras and computers, have become cheaper, Duisenberg said.
"This year, the euro is the whipping boy. It's blamed for everything," he said. "If there's a bad winter in Portugal and the harvest is a failure, the prices of imported cucumbers are more expensive. That's normal."