BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Seven months away from the launch of euro bills and coins in 12 countries, only a quarter of small and medium-sized businesses are ready for the switch to the new shared currency, according to a survey released Tuesday.

However, the European Commission said it was encouraged its Eurobarometer survey showed small business preparations were speeding up, with 63 percent of such companies already adopting plans for coping with the change.

An EU official said companies that started preparations early could gain a competitive advantages once euro cash hits the streets on Jan. 1.

``Those who start the second half of the year reasonably well prepared will be in a much better position than their competitors,'' said Erkki Liikanen, EU enterprise and information society commissioner.

The survey was based on replies from 2,832 businesses in the 12 EU nations that will adopt the euro.

It showed 16 percent were already using euros in their invoicing, but 10 percent said they won't be ready to conduct transactions in euros by the time the cash is launched.