The euro (€; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the currency of twelve of the twenty-five European Union member states. These twelve states, which form the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. It is the result of the most significant monetary reform in Europe since the Roman Empire. Though the euro can be seen simply as a mechanism for perfecting the Single European Market, facilitating free trade between the members of the Eurozone, the euro is also a key part of the European project of political integration.
The euro is administered by the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), composed of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Eurozone central banks operating in member states. The ECB (headquartered in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) has sole authority to set monetary policy; the other members of the ESCB participate in the printing, minting and distribution of notes and coins, and the operation of the Eurozone payment system.
- Main articles: Euro coins, Euro banknotes
The euro sign is a stylised letter "E
" resembling the letter "C
" with a doubled middle bar, following the convention of many other currency signs
The euro is divided into 100 cents, but the actual name can vary with the country: in Greece, the name leptó, plural leptá is used instead, and in Italy the original word "centesimo", from which "cent" is derived, is used currently. In France, people tend to keep using "centime", the subdivision of their former money (French franc). The form "cent" is officially used in the singular and in the plural (see the relevant section below).
All euro coins have a common obverse showing the worth and a national reverse showing an image specific to the country that issued it; the monarchies have a picture of their reigning monarch, other countries usually have their national symbols. All the different coins can be used in all the participating member states: for example, a euro coin bearing an image of the Spanish king is legal tender not only in Spain, but also in all the other nations where the euro is in use. There are two-euro, one-euro, fifty-cent, twenty-cent, ten-cent, five-cent, two-cent and one-cent coins, though the latter two are not generally used in Finland (but are still legal tender).
Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides. Notes are issued in the following amounts: €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, and €5. Some higher denominations are not issued in some countries, though again, are legal tender.
The euro was established by the provisions in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union that was used to establish an economic and monetary union. In order to participate in the new currency, member states had to meet strict criteria such as a budget deficit of less than three per cent of GDP, a debt ratio of less than sixty per cent of GDP, combined with low inflation and interest rates close to the EU average.
Due to differences in national conventions for rounding and significant digits, all conversion between the national currencies had to be carried out using the process of triangulation via the euro. The definitive values in euros of these subdivisions (which represent the exchange rates at which the currency entered the euro) are as follows:
The above rates were determined by the Council of the European Union, based on a recommendation from the European Commission based on of the market rates on 31 December, 1998, so that one ECU (European Currency Unit) would equal one euro. (The European Currency Unit was an accounting unit used by the EU, based on the currencies of the member states; it was not a currency in its own right.) These rates were set by Council Regulation 2866/98 (EC), of 31 December 1998. They could not be set earlier, because the ECU depended on the closing exchange rate of the non-euro currencies (principally the pound sterling) that day.
Greece failed to meet the criteria for joining initially, so it did not join the common currency on 1 January, 1999. It was admitted two years later, on 1 January 2001, at the following exchange rate:
The procedure used to fix the irrevocable conversion rate between the drachma and the euro was different, since the euro by then was already two years old. While the conversion rates for the initial eleven currencies were determined only hours before the euro was introduced, the conversion rate for the Greek drachma was fixed several months beforehand, in Council Regulation 1478/2000 (EC), of 19 June 2000.
The currency was introduced in non-physical form (travellers' cheques, electronic transfers, banking, etc.) at midnight on 1 January, 1999, when the national currencies of participating countries (the Eurozone) ceased to exist independently in that their exchange rates were locked at fixed rates against each other, effectively making them mere non-decimal subdivisions of the euro. The euro thus became the successor to the European Currency Unit (ECU). The notes and coins for the old currencies, however, continued to be used as legal tender until new notes and coins were introduced on 1 January 2002.
The changeover period during which the former currencies' notes and coins were exchanged for those of the euro lasted about two months, until 28 February, 2002. The official date on which the national currencies ceased to be legal tender varied from member state to member state. The earliest date was in Germany; the mark officially ceased to be legal tender on 31 December, 2001, though the exchange period lasted two months. The final date was 28 February 2002, by which all national currencies ceased to be legal tender in their respective member states. (Note that some of these dates were earlier than was originally planned.) However, even after the official date, they continued to be accepted by national central banks for several years, and in some states for several decades hence. The earliest coins to become non-convertible were the Portuguese escudos, which ceased to have monetary value after 31 December 2002, although banknotes do remain exchangeable until 2022.
Although some countries are not printing the €500 and €200 banknotes, all banknotes are legal tender throughout the Eurozone. Finland decided not to mint or circulate one-cent and two-cent coins, except in small numbers for collectors. All cash transactions in Finland ending in one or two cents are rounded down and three or four cents are rounded up. Despite this convention, the one-cent and two-cent coins are still legal tender in Finland.
Participation in the Economic and Monetary Union
- Main article: Eurozone
Countries using the euro
At present the member states officially using the euro are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France (except Pacific territories using the CFP franc), Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Overseas territories of some Eurozone countries, such as French Guiana, Réunion, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and Martinique, also use the euro. These countries together are frequently referred to as the "Eurozone", "Euroland" or more rarely as "Eurogroup".
Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City previously used currencies that were replaced by the euro, and now mint their own euro coins by virtue of agreements concluded with EU member states (Italy in the case of San Marino and Vatican City, and France in the case of Monaco), on behalf of the European Community.
Andorra, Montenegro, and Kosovo also used currencies that were replaced by the euro (the French franc and Spanish peseta in the case of Andorra, and the German mark in the case of Montenegro and Kosovo). They have now adopted the euro as their de facto currencies, without having entered into any legal arrangements with the EU that explicitly permit them to do so. In October 2004, Andorra began negotiating a monetary agreement with the European Union that would allow the country to issue euro coins as Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City do.
Many of the foreign currencies that were pegged to European currencies are now pegged to the euro. For example, the escudo of Cape Verde used to be pegged to the Portuguese escudo, but is now pegged to the euro. Bosnia-Herzogovina uses a convertible mark which was pegged to the Deutsche mark but is now pegged to the euro. Similarly the CFP franc, CFA franc and Comoros franc, all once pegged to the French franc, are now pegged to the euro. In November 2004, during a meeting in Portugal, the prime minister of Cape Verde considered adopting the euro as his country's currency, today the currency is commonly accepted in the archipelago.
EU-members outside the Eurozone
The ten newest European Union members should eventually use the euro, as eventual adoption of the euro was part of their accession agreements. Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovenia have already joined Denmark in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM II. The dates these ten states hope to complete the third stage of the EMU vary: 1 January, 2007 for Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania 1(since they are already part of ERM II); 2007 for Cyprus; 2008 for Latvia, Malta and Slovakia; 2009 for the Czech Republic and Poland; and finally 2010 for Hungary. Estonia finalised the design for the country's coins' reverse side in late 2004. 1 2
The United Kingdom and Sweden have no plans at present to adopt the euro—however Sweden (unlike the UK and Denmark) does not have a formal opt-out from the monetary union (the third stage of EMU) and therefore must (in theory at least) convert to the euro at some point. Notwithstanding this, on 14 September, 2003, a Swedish referendum was held on the euro, the result of which was a rejection of the common currency. The Swedish government has argued that such a line of action is possible since one of the requirements for Eurozone membership is a prior two-year membership of the ERM II. By simply choosing to stay outside the exchange rate mechanism, the Swedish government is provided a formal loophole avoiding the theoretical requirement of adopting the euro. Sweden's major parties continue to believe that it would be in the national interest to join.
UK Eurosceptics believe that the single currency is merely a stepping stone to the formation of a unified European superstate. The contrary view is that, since intra-European exports make up 60% of the UK's total, it eases the Single Market by removing currency risk. An interesting parallel can be seen in the 19th century discussions concerning the possibility of the UK joining the Latin Monetary Union . The UK government has set five economic tests that must be passed before it can recommend that the UK join the euro. It assessed these tests in October 1997 and June 2003, and decided on both occasions that they had not all been passed. All three main political parties in the UK have promised to hold a referendum before joining the euro, and opinion polls consistently report a majority of the public to be opposed to doing so.
Denmark negotiated a number of opt-out clauses from the Maastricht treaty after it had been rejected in a first referendum (namely, Denmark attained an opt-out from joint defence, common currency, judicial cooperation, and European citizenship). The modified treaty was then accepted in another referendum one year after the first one. In 2000, another referendum was held in Denmark regarding the euro; once more, the population decided to stay outside the eurozone for now. However, Danish politicians have suggested that debate on abolishing the four opt-out clauses may be re-opened in late 2005 or early 2006. In addition, Denmark has pegged its krone to the euro (€1 = DKr7.43), something which Sweden has not done.
Bulgaria and Romania
Although Bulgaria is not a member state yet (member as of January 1 2007), the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the Bulgarian government have agreed on the introduction of the euro in mid 2009, when the Bulgarian National Bank is expected to become part of the EMU and will receive the right to issue Bulgarian euro coins. The early accession to the EMU is due to the extremely tight monetary policy currently in use, which is the result of Bulgaria's agreement with the Monetary Board. In 1999 the Bulgarian currency was re-denominated (1 New Lev = 1000 Old Levs) and the value of the lev was fixed to one German Mark, therefore its value has since been fixed in relation to the euro. Even at this point of time Bulgaria has fulfilled the great majority of the EMU membership criteria.
As for Romania (member as of January 1 2007), it is likely to join the Eurozone in the 2012-2013 period. However, there is no clear strategy of the Romanian government at this point, so the actual date depends on the future development in the Romanian fiscal and monetary policies.
Effects of a single currency
Having a single currency is expected to increase the economic interdependency of and the ease of trade between the EU members that have adopted the euro. This, in theory, should be beneficial for citizens of the euro area, as increases in trade are historically one of the main driving forces of economic growth. Moreover, this would fit with the long-term purpose of a unified market within the European Union.
A major benefit is the removal of bank currency transaction charges that previously was a significant cost to both individuals and businesses when changing from one currency to another. Conversely, banks will suffer a significant reduction in profits with the loss of this income.
A second effect of the common European currency is that differences in prices—in particular in price levels—will decrease. Differences in prices can trigger arbitrage, e.g. trade between countries, which will equalise prices across the euro area. Often this will also result in increased competition between companies, which should help to contain inflation and which therefore will be beneficial to consumers.
Some economists are concerned about the possible dangers of adopting a single currency for a large and diverse area. Because the Eurozone has a single monetary policy (and so a single interest rate), set by the ECB, it cannot be fine-tuned for the economic situation in each individual country. Public investment and fiscal policy in each country is thus the only way in which economic changes can be introduced specific to each region or nation. Eurozone members are experiencing large variations in inflation and unemployment, though not yet great enough to cause significant economic damage.
Others point out that the Eurozone is similar in size and population to the United States, which has a single currency and a single monetary policy set by the Federal Reserve. However, the individual states that make up the USA have less regional autonomy and a more homogeneous economy than the nations of the EU. Of particular concern is the notion that the economies of the EU may not all be 'in sync'—each may be at a different stage in the boom and bust cycle, or just be experiencing different inflationary pressures. Labour mobility is also higher in the United States than across the Eurozone.
It can also be argued that the single currency works for the USA because the US dollar is a hegemonic currency. Before the euro, eighty per cent of the world's currency reserves were held in US dollars. This gives the US economy a huge subsidy in that reserve dollars are invested in US institutions or foreign institutions under US control. This subsidy helps cushion the effects of a possible strong dollar hurting certain regions of the USA.
If the euro were to become either a hegemonic currency replacing the dollar or a co-hegemonic currency equal in reserve status to the dollar, some of the subsidy the USA gains would be transferred to the EU and help balance out some of the problems of the present heterogeneous economic structure still in place.
It has been said that the euro would add great liquidity to the financial markets in Europe. Governments and companies can now borrow money in euros instead of their local currency, and this would allow access to many more sources of funds. Other economists consider that the potential strength of the Eurozone would be in the coherent efforts of a virtual greater super-economy, in which it is now potentially easier to create stronger financial associations, rather than in the mere sum of single liquidities.
The euro and oil
A final and possibly decisive effect is on the pricing of oil. The Eurozone consumes more imported oil than the United States. This would mean that more euros than US dollars would flow into the OPEC nations, except that oil is priced by those nations in US dollars only. There have been frequent discussions at OPEC about pricing oil in euros, which would have various effects, among them, requiring nations to hold stores of euros to buy oil, rather than the US dollars that they hold now. Venezuela under Hugo Chávez has been a vocal proponent of this scheme, despite selling most of its own oil to the United States. If implemented, this would be a transfer of a 'float' that presently subsidises the United States to subsidise the European Union instead. Another effect would be that the price of oil in the Eurozone would more closely follow the world price. When oil prices skyrocketed to almost 50 US dollars in August 2004, the oil price in euros didn't change nearly as much because of the concurrent rise in the exchange rate of the euro to the US dollar (to an exchange rate of EUR 1.00 = USD 1.33 in December 2004). Similarly, should oil prices lower significantly, together with the USD/EUR exchange rate, the oil price in the Eurozone would not fall as much. On the other hand, if the exchange rate and the oil price move in different directions, oil price changes are magnified. Pricing oil in euros would nullify this dependency of European oil prices on the USD/EUR exchange rate.
The deficit structure of the US economy relies heavily on the dollar's hegemonic reserve status as a means of securing US debts and deficits. Without this status, the dollar and the US economy might experience what many Latin American countries experienced during the 1980s. As long as the US dollar was not threatened, the US economy was in no danger of collapse. The individual European currencies offered no threat to the dollar's hegemonic position. In the opinion of some economists the euro may pose a threat to US dollar hegemony, and could under certain circumstances result in a US economic collapse.
Euro exchange rate
Against the US Dollar
After the introduction of the euro, its exchange rate against other currencies, especially the US dollar, declined heavily. At its introduction in 1999, the euro was worth USD $1.18; by late 2000 it had fallen to below $0.85. It then began what at the time was thought to be a recovery; by the beginning of 2001 it had risen to $0.95. It declined again, finally reaching a low of below $0.84 in July 2001. The currency then began to recover against the U.S. dollar. In the wake of U.S. corporate scandals, the two currencies reached parity on 15 July, 2002, and by the end of 2002 the euro had reached $1.04 as it climbed further.
On 23 May, 2003, the euro surpassed its initial trading value for the first time as it again hit $1.18, and broke the $1.35 barrier (€0.74 = $1) on 24 December, 2004. On 30 December, 2004 it reached a peak of $1.3668. Some analysts expect the euro to continue to strengthen against the dollar, possibly even to as much as $1.60 by the end of 2005.
For information on currencies pegged to euro, see: Currencies related to the euro
Part of the euro's strength is thought to be due to more attractive interest rates in Europe than in the United States. The US Federal Reserve has maintained lower rates than the ECB for some years, despite key European economies, notably Germany, growing relatively slowly or not at all. This is attributed in part to the ECB's duty to check inflation across the Eurozone, which in high-performing countries such as Republic of Ireland is above the ECB's target.
However, although the interest rate differential forms part of the backdrop, the main reason for the euro's continuing ascent against the dollar is the concern over the huge unsustainable US current account deficits. The market has been awash with concerns about the US twin deficits, which have been a key driver of dollar weakness. The US budget deficit is about $427 billion, or 3.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), while the current account—the broadest trade measure since it adds investment flows—hit a record $166.18bn shortfall in the second quarter of 2004.
A key factor is that a number of Asian currencies are rising less against the dollar than the euro is. In the case of China, the renminbi is pegged against the dollar, whilst the Japanese yen is supported by intervention (and the threat of it) by the Bank of Japan. This means much of the pressure from a falling dollar is translated into a rising euro.
The euro's climb from its lows began shortly after it was introduced as a cash currency. In the time between 1999 and 2002, eurosceptics tried to imply the weak euro was a sign that the euro experiment was doomed to fail. But it can also be said that its weakness in this period was due to low confidence in a currency that did not exist in "real" form. Once the euro became "real" in the sense of existing in the form of cash, the confidence in the euro rose and the increasing perception that it was here to stay helped increase its value. This effect was probably significant in the euro's decline and recovery between 1999 and 2002, but other factors are more significant since then.
Despite the euro's rise in value, as well as the value of other major and minor currencies, the US trade deficits continue to rise. Economic theory would suggest that a fall in the dollar and a rise in the euro should lead to an improvement in US exports and a decline in US imports, as the former becomes cheaper and the latter more expensive. However, this depends to some extent on how currency costs are passed down the supply chain. Furthermore, the declining dollar makes foreign investment in the US cheaper (although also reducing the return), so that continuing foreign investment may underpin the dollar to some extent.
The role of the dollar as the world's de facto reserve currency helps support both the dollar and the US budget deficit - but it depends on the continued willingness of foreigners to finance both. Central banks and others finance the budget by acquiring newly-issued, dollar-denominated US government bonds, which they need to acquire dollars for. If at some point foreigners become unwilling to accept new bonds at the prevailing interest rate (perhaps because the falling dollar is reducing the bonds' value too much), the dollar will fall even more - or the US will have to raise interest rates, which would reduce economic growth.
There is speculation that the strength of the euro relative to the dollar might encourage the use of the euro as an alternative reserve currency; Saddam Hussein's Iraq switched its currency reserves from dollars to euros in 2000. Moves by central banks with major reserve currency holdings such as those of India or China to switch some of their reserves from dollars to euros, or even of OPEC countries to switch the currency they trade in from dollars to euros, will further reinforce the dollar's decline. In 2004, the Bank for International Settlements reported the proportion of bank deposits held in euros rising to 20%, from 12% in 2001, and it is continuously rising. The falling dollar also raises returns for US investors from investing in foreign stocks, encouraging a switch which further depresses the dollar. 
The rise in the euro should dampen Eurozone exports, but there is little sign of this happening yet. The main reason is that the currencies of Euroland's major world-wide customers are also seeing their currencies rise relative to the dollar. As the current account deficits continue to rise and the US plans no austerity measures to curb foreign imports and increase exports, the situation may cause the US dollar to lose its position as a hegemonic currency replaced by either the euro or the euro and a basket of currencies.
Plural formation and grammar
- Main article: Linguistic issues concerning the euro
Several linguistic issues have arisen in relation to the spelling of the words euro and cent in the many languages of the member states of the European Union, as well as in relation to grammar and the formation of plurals. Immutable word formations have been encouraged by the European Commission in usage with official EU legislation (originally in order to ensure uniform presentation on the banknotes), but the "unofficial" practice concerning the mutability (or not) of the words differs between the member states.
The (misnomer) "euro-cent" is sometimes used in countries (such as USA, Canada, Australia) that also have "cent" as a subcurrency, to distinguish them from the local coin. The terms "eurodollar", which commonly refers to US dollar deposits in European banks, or the non-existent "euro dollar" have occasionally been used incorrectly to refer to the euro by sources in other parts of the world, particularly the United States.
The euro sign
The international three-letter code (according to ISO standard ISO 4217) for the euro is EUR. A special euro currency sign (€) was also designed. After a public survey had narrowed the original ten proposals down to just two, it was then up to the European Commission to choose the final design. The eventual winner had been designed by Arthur Eisenmenger and was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon (ε), as well as being a stylised version of the letter "E".
The euro is represented in the Unicode character set with the character name EURO SIGN and the code position U+20AC (decimal 8364) as well as in updated versions of the traditional Latin character sets. Western nations should switch from ISO 8859-1 (Latin 1) to ISO 8859-15 (Latin 9) or Unicode in order to represent this character. ISO 8859-16 represents this character also. In HTML "€" can also be used. The HTML masking was only introduced with HTML 4.0; shortly after the introduction of the euro, many browsers were unable to render it.
The European Commission originally specified the euro sign to have exact proportions, not varying from font to font. By this specification, the euro sign would have effectively been a logo, unlike designable characters such as the letters or other currency signs like the dollar and pound signs. Keeping it to exact measurements would have made it rather broad in comparison to other symbols and digits in most fonts and would sometimes have resulted in layout problems. For these reasons, most type designers have ignored the commission and designed their own variants for each font instead, often based upon the capital letter C in the respective font. The illustration at the top of this article is of the official, invariant euro sign.
On many computer keyboards, the euro sign often appears as secondary function to the letter E, which can be reached by the Alt or Alt Gr key (Ctrl+Alt on US PC keyboards). On modern Irish and British keyboards (where that position was already in use for é), the euro sign appears as a secondary function to the digit 4 (digit 2 on Macintosh keyboards). Some mobile phone companies did an interim software update on their special SMS character set, replacing the rarely used symbol for the Japanese yen with the euro sign: modern phones have both currency signs.
No "official" recommendation is made with regard to the use of a cent sign, and sums are often expressed as fractions of the euro (for example €0.05 rather than 5¢ or 5c). The small letter c is often used (as it was for the guilder subdivision cent). In Ireland, the small letter c is often seen (for instance on postage stamps) but in shops the cent sign ¢ makes an appearance from time to time. In Greece, the capital letter lambda (Λ) is widely used, as an abbreviation for lepta (Λεπτά). In Germany, the abbreviation "ct" is widely used for "cent".
Economists who helped realise the euro
Economist Robert Mundell is sometimes referred to as the father of the euro.
Some countries have given local slang words for the euro.
- In Finland, the most common slang word for euro is ege. This comes from huge, the slang word for the Finnish markka. The etymology and origin of huge are obscure. Cents are sometimes called sena.
- In Ireland, an uncommon nickname is yoyo, a play on the name. It occasionally appears on advertisements, although this name has only been observed on advertisements of British companies and have not been noted in recent times. Nevertheless, yoyo is not used by locals. The term quid, however, has been universally transferred from a slang term for the Irish pound to a slang term for the euro.
- In Portugal, the 1 cent coin, because it is so small, was almost immediately nicknamed, the most common are: feijão (bean), botão (button), and tostão (penny). In Portugal beans are used to gamble when people do not want to play with money, as in the popular expression: Jogar a feijões (Playing with beans), implying the 1 cent coin is worth as little as a bean.