German island struggles as test bed for nixing small coins

The tiny German island of Wangerooge has become a testing ground for the political debate over whether some euro cent coins should be abolished in Europe – with little success so far.

The European Commission is considering whether to eliminate the smallest euro cent coins and businesses in some European countries have already started rounding off their prices accordingly.

The bank on the German mainland stopped supplying Wangerooge with 1-, 2- and 5-cent coins in November, arguing that the transport of the coin rolls – usually conducted by plane – exceeded their monetary value.

But retailers have since resorted to exchanging coins among themselves or acquiring coin-filled piggy banks from their customers.

“We cannot do without the coins,” said Claudia Grunemann, the owner of the North Sea island’s bookshop. “It’s easy to say, but not every customer is willing to play along.”

Every customer should in theory be offered the choice of rounding off the price and donating the leftover cents to social projects, according to mayor Marcel Fangohr.

Grunemann said having to discuss this with every customer will become unworkable once tourists descend on the island during the summer high season.

But the retailers’ current system of swapping coins and getting coins from customers might also collapse then.

Many retailers cannot just change the prices of their goods because they are fixed nationally.

“Of course I would welcome the abolition of the coins, but quite a bit still has to change first in the economy,” Wangerooge pharmacist Rita Ademes said.

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