The 20 years of the Euro, which came into circulation on January 1, 2002: history and curiosities

The single currency was introduced on January 1, 1999. During the first three years, however, it was used only for accounting purposes and for electronic payments. Cash went into circulation three years later and 12 European Union countries witnessed the transition to a new currency

The entry into circulation of the Euro, the EU’s single currency, will be 20 years old on 1 January 2022. Today it is the official currency of 19 of the 27 member countries. But in the beginning there were only 12 states where the banknotes began to circulate. Some EU countries still do not meet the necessary criteria to join the euro area, while Denmark has decided not to participate. The European Central Bank and the European Commission are responsible for maintaining its value and stability and for establishing the criteria required by EU countries to enter the Euro area. Here are curiosities, characteristics and crucial stages of the coin.

The origin of the name

The name “Euro” was chosen by the Madrid European Council in 1995. The euro symbol (€) is inspired by the Greek letter epsilon (Є) and also represents the first letter of the word “Europe”, while the two parallel bars they mean stability. The ISO code for the euro is EUR, which is used to refer to amounts in Euros without using the symbol.

The history of the Euro

After decades of discussions on how to achieve Economic and Monetary Union, which until then had only led to the ECU, the European unit of account, the Delors Committee was established in 1988. Under the chairmanship of Jacques Delors, then president of the Commission, the committee examined specific gradual steps towards the adoption of a single currency. The agreement that political leaders subsequently signed in Maastricht in 1992 gave birth to the single currency, based on the report of the Delors committee and subsequent negotiations. The signing of the Maastricht Treaty is a crucial stage on the path towards the Euro. In 1994, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) in Frankfurt initiated preparatory work to allow the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area. On 1 June 1998, the ECB became operational. On 1 January 1999 the Euro was introduced, becoming the official currency of 11 Member States.

The member countries of the Euro

During the first three years, however, it was “invisible” as it was only used for accounting purposes and for electronic payments. The coins and banknotes entered into circulation on January 1, 2002 in 12 countries of the European Union. The founding members were Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. Greece joined in 2001. Since then, seven other Member States have adopted the euro (Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia).

Banknotes and coins

For the first introduction of the Euro in January 2002, 7 banknotes and 8 coins were conceived. The banknotes share the same design in all countries. The coins have a common side, while the design of the other side is specific to each country of issue. In Italy, for example, in 2022 a 2 euro coin will come into circulation depicting the faces of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, killed by the mafia in the 1992 massacres. After a first series, in 2013 the Europa series entered circulation, which features enhanced security features and a new design, featuring a portrait of the mythological figure of Europa.

What happened to the old national currencies

In some countries it is still possible to exchange old national notes and coins with the single European currency. In Italy, the limit expired in 2012. In Austria, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the possibility of exchanging the national currency at a central bank is unlimited. In Luxembourg, Slovenia and Slovakia it is only valid for banknotes. In Spain, the deadline expired on 31 December 2020.

The Euro outside the European Union

The Euro is also used as an official or de facto currency and as an “anchor currency” by a number of regions geographically outside the European Union: Azores and Madeira (Portugal), Canary Islands (Spain), Ceuta and Melilla (Spain ), French Guiana, the French Caribbean islands, Mayotte and Réunion (France), Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France). The Euro is also the currency of some non-EU countries: Andorra, Kosovo, Montenegro, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City.