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In Italy, you can still find places to exchange lira for euro

by Roberto Faben

For anyone who’s still holding on to old Italian lira, there’s a new opportunity to exchange them for euro. But you must have written proof that shows that you've requested reimbursement by February 28, 2012.

Since January 22nd, 2016, when it received the go-ahead from the Ministry of Economy, the Bank of Italy began exchanging Italy’s old currency—as long as the old paper bills were in circulation before the start of the new European currency.

And from that date until July 29th, 2016, 211 of these exchanges have taken place, totaling 4.46 billion lira: the equivalent of €2.3 million.

The final date for exchanging lira, which was permanently replaced by the euro at midnight on February 28th, 2002, was initially set for February 28th, 2012.

Therefore, people had exactly ten years to go to a Bank of Italy branch and convert their old money. Nevertheless, a 2011 decree signed by then-Prime Minister Mario Monti provided for an immediate end to all lira exchanges, with a relative deposit of the corresponding value into the Treasury in order to counterbalance public funds.

This meant that the expiration date, which had been set by law in 1997, was moved up 84 days.

Some citizens, claiming to have been defrauded of their rights, contacted their lawyers. In November 2015, the Constitutional Court declared that the part of the provision that pushed the date forward was “constitutionally illegitimate.”

Consequently, in January 2016 the Ministry of Economy allowed the Bank of Italy to go ahead with the exchanges, but only for citizens who could prove (either with written certification or mail received from the central office) that they had asked to convert their money by February 28th, 2012. At the moment there isn’t a time limit on these reimbursement requests.

Thus, Italy is the first country in the Eurozone (among those who set a limited period of time for exchanging old national currencies) to have renegotiated expiry dates. And what about all of the other people who still have lira notes, but can’t prove that they requested to exchange them before February 28th, 2012?

The Constitutional Court’s sentence affirms that all citizens have been wronged by the “Monti Decree.” The central bank, however, claims that they cannot currently accommodate any of these needs, in that “this isn’t provided for in the current regulatory framework” and they are asking for “the enactment of specific legislative provisions.”

In other words, the central bank (which must pay on behalf of the Ministry of Economy) is open to exchanging all the old lira notes for euro, but only with the Ministry’s authorization. Which, in turn, has its hands tied, in that the Ministry can only—in turn—perform these transactions with the approval of a government law, which at the moment doesn’t exist.