Euro marks 20th anniversary

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the euro currency, which first circulated as coins and banknotes in 2002, when 12 countries comprised the eurozone.

Established in 1999, the eurozone now comprises 27 European Union (EU) countries, 19 of which have adopted the euro. Today, those 19 countries – nearly 345 million people – share the euro “regardless of language, culture or national borders,” according to Christine Lagarde, the Paris-born president of the European Central Bank (ECB). It’s the world’s second most widely used currency behind only the U.S. dollar.

“It has helped unite us as Europeans,” Lagarde wrote in a Dec. 31 blog post on the ECB website, adding it was the “world’s largest ever monetary changeover.”

“The euros we hold in our hands have become a beacon of stability and solidity around the world.”

On Jan. 1, 2002, when the euro entered circulation, Lagarde had yet to begin her political career; however, she recalled a personal memory of the currency’s launch.

“I spent that day with family and friends in our home in Normandy in France, and shortly before midnight we went to the nearest cash machine, anxious to get hold of our first euro banknotes,” Lagarde wrote, adding some friends predicted the currency changeover “would overload the machines and that the euro banknotes wouldn’t be available.”

In addition to coins, the euro also circulates as banknotes (2013 ‘Europa’ series shown).

“We made a bet: if the machine gave us French francs instead of euro notes, they could keep the money,” she added.

“After midnight, we tried the cash machine. It dispensed brand new crisp euro banknotes, and we all raised a glass to the new European currency.”

That day, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain swapped their national notes and coins for the new euro. Slovenia then adopted the currency in 2007 followed by Cyprus and Malta a year later, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015.

Croatia is also currently preparing to join the eurozone in 2023.

A December Eurobarometer survey, a collection of multi-national public opinion surveys, reported the euro has a 78 per cent approval rate among citizens.

Looking ahead, the ECB will soon redesign the currency’s banknotes based on input from Europeans about future themes and designs, which officials hope to unveil in 2024.

As the euro’s custodian, the ECB marked the currency’s 20-year milestone from Dec. 31-Jan. 9 with a light display in blue and yellow – the official EU colours – at the bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

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