Table of contents:
- 1 How it all began…
- 2 How the euro project was implemented
- 3 The final transition to the euro Germany
- 4 How was the euro received?
- 5 Inflation
- 6 Exchange rates to the euro
- 7 Euro cash
- 8 Banknotes
- 9 Counterfeit protection
The euro is the official currency of the European Economic and Monetary Union and its 19 EU member states, which together make up the euro zone, and the currency of six other European countries. This makes it the second most important reserve currency in the world after the US dollar. Its ISO code is EUR and is symbolised by the € symbol.
On 1 January 1999, the euro was used as book money, and on 1 January 2002, it was introduced as cash, finally replacing national currencies as a means of payment.
How it all began…
The idea of a single European currency is closely linked to the history of European integration. From the very beginning, it was based on the basic idea of facilitating trade within a common European market. The project was first put into concrete terms in 1970 in the so-called “Werner Plan”. According to this plan, a European monetary union was to be achieved by 1980. Although this plan led to the creation of the European Exchange Rate Association in 1972, the collapse of the Bretton Woods system the following year thwarted the implementation of the plan.
In 1979, the European Monetary System (EMS) was established for the time being. Its task was to prevent fluctuations of national currencies beyond a fixed range. As a result, the European Currency Unit ECU, also known as the basket currency, was introduced, which can be considered the precursor of the euro. The ECU did not exist as cash. It was only used as a unit of account.
In 1988 the Committee issued the “Delors Report”, named after the President of the EC Commission, Jacques Delors. The report proposed the creation of European Economic and Monetary Union in three steps, which later actually took place in that order:
Step 1: On 1 July 1990, the free movement of capital between the EC states was established and in 1992 the legal foundations for its further implementation were laid in the Maastricht Treaty.
Step 2: 1 January 1994 was the founding date of the European Monetary Institute (EMI). At the same time, a review of the budgetary situation of the member states was launched.
Step 3: Finally, the European Central Bank (ECB) was established on 1 January 1999. The exchange rates of national currencies against the euro were also fixed.
The introduction of the euro was decided by the Heads of State and Government of the European Community in Brussels on 2 May 1998. The German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed to the introduction of the euro on his own without consulting the President of the Bundesbank, Hans Tietmeyer. He was also aware that this decision ran counter to the will of the broad majority of the population. In a later interview Kohl explained that he had taken this path because he saw the euro as a “synonym for Europe” on the one hand, and as an opportunity for Europe to grow together peacefully on the other.
In 1999, the following countries adopted the euro as their official currency: the EU Member States Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, and the non-EU countries Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
Between 2001 and 2015 the EU member states Greece, Slovenia, Malta, Cyprus, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and in 2014 Andorra as a non-EU state joined the Monetary Union.
How the euro project was implemented
Convergence criteria and the Euro Stability Pact
In the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the EU member states laid down certain “convergence criteria”, the fulfilment of which was a prerequisite for the introduction of the euro as a currency. These criteria include the stability of price levels, public budgets, long-term nominal interest rates and exchange rates with the other EU countries. This Euro Stability Pact stipulates that the euro countries may have a total debt level of no more than 60% of their gross domestic product and that their annual new debt may not exceed the 3% limit.
Nonetheless, both before and after the introduction of the euro, member states have violated these regulations. Greece, for example, was only allowed to introduce the euro on the basis of doctored statistics. Germany and France also breached the euro stability pact on several occasions. In addition, although the Pact provides for sanctions against countries with excessive deficits, these have never been applied.
How did the name “euro” come about?
The idea of referring to the new single currency as the ‘ECU’ – short for European Currency Unit – was discarded in the early 1990s because the term seemed too impersonal and too technical. That is why the European Council agreed on the name “euro” in Madrid on 16 December 1995 and also stipulated that the currency name should only be used in the singular. Other alternative proposals, such as “European franc”, “European crown” or “European guilder”, whose adaptation, according to the decision-makers, would have signalled a certain continuity and would have strengthened the population’s confidence in the euro, were rejected because of the accusation of giving priority to certain member states.
Euro as book money
After the exchange rates between the currencies of the Member States and the euro had been fixed on the last day of 1998, the euro became the legal accounting currency on New Year’s Day. It thus replaced its predecessor, the basket currency ECU. As early as 2 January, European stock exchanges listed all securities in the new currency. Since 1 January 1999 it has also been possible to issue direct debits and credit transfers in euros.
The final transition to the euro Germany
In Germany, the euro was distributed to banks and retailers by the so-called “frontloading procedure” from September 2001 onwards. The retail sector had the task of accepting the Deutschmark and issuing euros.
From 17 December 2001, German banks and savings banks offered a “starter kit” consisting of 20 coins with a total value of 10.23 euros, which were issued for 20 deutschmarks. The treasury took over the rounding difference.
In January and February 2002, it was still possible to pay in German marks in the retail trade. Nevertheless, the change was already paid out in euros and cents. Euro cash could also be dispensed at ATMs from 1 January 2002. From the end of January 2002, the euro became finally accepted as cash.
In order to ensure a smooth introduction of euro banknotes, the appearance and formats of the euro notes were not published in advance. Similarly, the security features remained secret until the public introduction of the new currency.
Conversion of accounts and contracts
Since 1 January 1999, accounts with savings banks and banks could be kept in euros. They were then automatically converted to the new currency on 1 January 2002. From this date, cheque payments and transfers were only possible in euros.
Contracts concluded before the changeover to the euro continued to be valid thereafter. However, the monetary amounts were converted into euros on January 1, 2002. Similarly, care was taken to leave receivables and liabilities unchanged in terms of value. Until the transition period on February 28, 2002, it was also possible to settle old DM receivables in DM (but only in cash).
Cash exchange for latecomers
The inclusion of retailers in the exchange process ended on 28 February 2002, and latecomers were still able to exchange the old currency for euros free of charge and without restriction at branches of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Despite free and simple exchange mechanisms, DM notes and coins worth 12.76 billion euros were still in circulation in July 2016.
On 1 September 2001 the Oesterreichische Nationalbank began distributing euro banknotes and coins to credit institutions. Their task was to supply trade and corporate customers with the new currency. The retail starter pack for the cash desk in the retail sector was issued to the value of 145.50 euro with an equivalent value of 2,000 Schilling.
From 15 December 2001, private individuals were able to purchase a starter pack consisting of 33 euro coins worth 14.54 euro for 200.07 shillings. The issue of the new banknotes started on 1 January 2002.
As in Germany, there was a dual circulation period in Austria from 1 January to 28 February 2002, during which both currencies could be used for cash payments. On 1 March 2002, the Austrian schilling lost its validity as a means of payment, but could be changed into euro at the Oesterreichische Nationalbank free of charge and for an unlimited period.
The changeover at the ATMs went smoothly, although initially only 10- and 100-euro notes were issued here. The limit for daily cash withdrawals at ATMs was raised from the previous 5000 Schilling (363.36 euros) to 400 euros. All payment orders and accounts were converted automatically on 1 January 2002.
On 31 March 2010, there were still ATS 9.06 billion (converted 658.24 million euro) in circulation. In order to facilitate the exchange of existing shilling stocks, the Oesterreichische Nationalbank’s euro bus has been travelling through Austria since 2002. Part of this campaign is also to educate the population about the security features of the new currency.
Other participating countries
For all other participants, the euro was introduced at the beginning of the year. In each country there was a short transitional period during which both the euro and the old national currency were in circulation. Although the former currencies were no longer legal tender, it was still possible to pay with them. The deadline for the dual circulation of cash varied from country to country. Nevertheless, most national central banks allowed the exchange of legacy currencies even after the deadline.
How was the euro received?
Acceptance in Germany
According to a study conducted by the University of Applied Sciences Ingolstadt in 2004, almost 60% of the German population had a positive attitude towards the new currency at the time of the survey. However, the price increases were criticised: in some euro countries, for example in the Netherlands and France, they were prohibited by law, while in Germany they were based on a self-commitment of the trade. The introduction of the euro was welcomed especially for holidays and trips abroad, not only because the exchange of currency was no longer necessary, but also because of the better price comparison within Europe.
According to a recent survey by Eurobarometer in 2014, 74% of Germans were in favour of the euro.
Acceptance in Austria
In Austria, too, 62% of those in favour of the new currency were predominantly satisfied with it in 2006. Many Austrians shared the opinion that the euro was good for the country and would strengthen the future. Already in 2002 there were more euro supporters in Austria than eurosceptics.
European Central Bank
European Central Bank building complex, seen from the north-west (December 2014), Frankfurt am Main, epicentre – Own work CC BY-SA 3.0
European Central Bank building complex, Frankfurt am Main (December 2014) (© Epicentre, via Wikimedia Commons)
Control of the euro is the responsibility of the European Central Bank (ECB), which has its seat in Frankfurt am Main. It took up its duties on 1 June 1998. Its main tasks also include
- to maintain price stability,
- Support for the economic policies of the Member States,
- Defining and implementing monetary policy,
- Management of official foreign reserves of member countries,
- Execution of foreign exchange transactions,
- supply of the national economy with money, and
- Promote the smooth functioning of payment systems.
The ECB has legal independence so that, at the request of a Member State’s government, it is not tempted to increase the money supply in order to make up for the budget deficit. Furthermore, it has the exclusive right to issue banknotes and thus also determines the money supply of the euro. The above-mentioned factors play an essential role in the stability of the currency.
The “euro area” is the group of 19 EU countries (“Euro-19”) in which the euro is the official currency. This includes countries that have linked their own currency to the euro via an exchange rate system or non-EU countries that have introduced the euro, mostly unilaterally.
Non-EU members using the euro include Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, Miquelon, Saint Barthélemy and Saint-Pierre. Similarly, in the military bases of Akrotiri and Dekelia in Cyprus, which are under British sovereignty, payment is made exclusively in euro.
All in all, over forty countries use the euro or a currency linked to it.
Economic consequences of the single currency
The introduction of the euro was intended to simplify trade between the member states of the euro zone and to reduce or eliminate transaction costs. This was seen as an advantage for both businesses and consumers. The euro can also be seen as a complement to the single European market, which is characterised by the free movement of services, goods, people and capital.
The single currency was also expected to increase competition between suppliers and, as a result, lower prices for private households. The euro was also expected to keep inflation low and bring greater prosperity to consumers.
In any case, travellers will benefit from the introduction of the euro, provided that they travel within the euro zone. This is because they will save themselves the trouble of exchanging and redeeming their money and the associated charges. Moreover, outside the euro zone – almost everywhere in the world (!) – euro notes are accepted by money changers.
It turned out that the European Central Bank had successfully fulfilled its main task: it was indeed able to ensure stable inflation without major ups and downs. In most cases the inflation target of “below but close to two percent” was achieved and long-lasting deviations were prevented.
The introduction of the euro has had a marked effect on international commodity prices, particularly oil. The most common currency for oil is the US dollar. Since the 1970s, only the US dollar has been accepted by OPEC as a means of payment. Nevertheless, the conversion of prices to euros was discussed within OPEC. However, the implementation of this plan would have a negative impact on the US dollar and the US economy, as many third countries would have to convert parts of their foreign exchange reserves into euro assets for oil purchases.
It is interesting to note that Iraq already invoiced its oil sales entirely in euros in 2000, but this changed when the USA conquered the country. Both Iran and Venezuela are in favour of converting to euros. On February 17, 2008, Iran even opened its own oil exchange on the island of Kisch, which is not tied to the US dollar.
After the introduction of the euro, many consumers felt that both goods and services had become more expensive. In response, the satirical magazine Titanic introduced the term “Teuro”, which spread rapidly through other media.
The perception of alleged price increases was highest in the Netherlands and Germany. But the displeasure about it was also noticeable in Austria.
After the voices in the population became increasingly loud regarding the subjectively perceived price increases, researchers conducted studies on this phenomenon, including the psychologist Eva Traut-Mattausch. She had her subjects estimate price changes during the currency changeover. The research showed that the new prices were generally estimated to be higher than they actually were. Price increases were illusorily reinforced, while price reductions were not noticed at all. Psychology calls this phenomenon “confirmation errors”: previously existing expectations have a significant influence on the assessment of information. Information that meets expectations is considered more relevant and credible. A similar experiment was conducted in Austria – with the same result.
Euro in the global monetary system
As a result of fiscal policy difficulties in the USA and the fixed exchange rate development of the euro against almost all major currencies in recent years, economists expect the US dollar to continue to erode and eventually replace it as the world’s reserve and reserve currency.
These forecasts are supported by the fact that the US dollar was replaced by the euro as the leading international cash currency in 2006.
Exchange rates to the euro
Conversion of old currencies
On 31 December 1998 the Ministers of Finance fixed the exchange rates of the countries initially participating in monetary union. The conversion value of the euro predecessor ECU was used as a basis. Later, when Greece (2001), Malta and Cyprus (2008) joined the euro area, the average value was used as a benchmark in ERM II.
Development of the exchange rate against the US dollar
On the very first day of trading in euros on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, 4 January 1999, the new currency had an exchange rate of USD 1.1789 per euro. For the time being, the exchange rate of the euro against the US dollar developed negatively.
It was not until April 2002 to December 2004 that the value of the euro rose continuously until it reached a record high of USD 1.3633 on December 28, 2004.
Economic significance of the US dollar/euro exchange rate
If the euro exchange rate is high, the prices of raw materials, which are still traded in US dollars, fall. However, a high euro exchange rate has a negative effect on the cost of exports, which can have an impact on sales. On the other hand, it is advantageous that due to the size of the euro zone, exchange rates and their fluctuations are less significant than in the days of national currencies.
Shortly after cash was introduced, the euro appreciated. This was additionally supported by the economic upswing in Europe since 2005. Experts continue to forecast that the value of the euro will continue to rise in the medium and long term, citing the following reasons:
Rising debt in the USA,
foreseeable shifts in the currency reserves of countries such as Russia, Japan, India, China and other large countries, and
increasing willingness of oil exporters to accept the euro as a means of payment.
In July 2008, the euro exchange rate rose to USD 1.5990 per euro, reaching its all-time high to date.
Currency name Euro
As mentioned above, the name “euro” was adopted at the Madrid European Council on 15 and 16 December 1995. Etymologically, it is derived from the word “euro” as a short form of the continent’s name Europe. The name of the currency is the same in all the languages of the countries that have adopted the euro. Nevertheless, the common currency is pronounced differently in the different languages.
In the legal acts of the European Union, the “euro” is found exclusively in the nominative singular. Nevertheless, there are country-specific deviations from this rule. In German, for example, the plural forms euros and cents are also used. Officially own plural forms also exist in some other EU languages.
“Cent” is the subunit of the Euro. The word is derived from the Latin centesimus, which means “the hundredth” or “the hundredth”. In a way, the name is a concession to those states whose currency subunit already contained the word cent before the introduction of the euro: France and Belgium had the centimes, Italy the centesimi, Portugal the centavos and Finland the sentti.
Colloquially, the term “euro cent” is also in circulation. On the coins themselves, both the term euro and cent are embossed, although cent appears in larger letters.
Currency symbol of the euro
In 1997, the European Commission introduced the euro symbol as the symbol of the single currency. Because there are few currencies with their own symbol anyway, this issue was initially ignored in the Council. However, when a logo was needed for information campaigns at the beginning of 1996, it was decided to introduce this logo as a currency symbol as well.
The € is based on the Greek letter Epsilon and thus not only refers to the cradle of European civilisation, but is also the first letter of the word Europe. The two vertical parallels symbolise the stability of the euro. The fact that the European single currency has its own unmistakable sign is also intended to indicate its vocation as the most important currency in the world.
The euro symbol is based on a design created back in 1974 by the former chief graphic artist of the European Community, Arthur Eisenmenger. Strangely enough, the Paneuropa-Union also issued a set of euros with the values 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 euros with exactly the same symbol “€” in 1972.
ISO currency code
The international currency abbreviation for the euro is “EUR”. With regard to the ISO standard, it differs from the usual system in the following points:
Usually the first letter of currencies used in a monetary union is “X”. Accordingly, the abbreviation for the euro should be “XEU” – in fact, from 1979 to 1998 this was also the ISO code for the currency unit ECU.
The first two letters of the ISO code define the country. Since the European Union is abbreviated to “EU”, the short form of the euro should actually be “EUE”.
Since there is neither a sign nor an abbreviation for the cent, official texts indicate cent amounts in euro fractions. For example: “0.20 EUR” stands for 20 cents. Unofficially, however, the sub-unit is abbreviated in a number of ways: with Ct, Ct., ct, C or c.
Coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 euro cents as well as 1 and 2 euro are in circulation in the euro area. While the front sides of the coins are the same in all euro countries, the reverse side has national designs. On the reverse of German coins, the minting place is also indicated, whereas Greek cent coins are issued with the Greek lepto/lepta for cent. In 2007, a gradual renewal of the front sides of the coins began in order to represent the EU states that joined in 2004.
The 1- and 2-euro coins are made of the alloys cupronickel and brass.
It is worth mentioning that the Thai 10-baht coins are very similar to the 2-euro coins both in size and weight. Since they also consist of two alloys, it is possible that they will be recognised by European vending machines as a 2 Euro coin. The same applies to the Kenyan 5 shilling coin and the new Turkish 1 lira coin.
2 euro commemorative coins
2 euro commemorative coins have also been in circulation since 2004. On the national side they have different motives. In 2004, for example, Greece issued its own €2 commemorative coins to commemorate the Summer Olympics. According to the Bundesrat, each of the 16 federal states is to have its own commemorative coin up to and including 2022. In 2007, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, all 13 euro states issued a commemorative coin with common lettering and image in their respective language or in Latin. Also in 2015, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the EU flag, a common €2 commemorative coin was issued by all 19 EU countries.
Euro banknotes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euro. In the EU-wide competition, in which designers were invited to present their designs to some 2000 respondents, the design by Austrian designer Robert Kalina won the competition with a 76% approval rating. He dedicated his series to various European architectural styles and, by means of stylistic abstractions of existing buildings, was able to fully comply with the jury’s requirement to create banknotes with a “European aura”. Kalina’s design is identical in all euro countries: the front sides have a window front or window as a motif, while the back sides have a bridge. No real buildings are depicted, but the stylistic features of the respective epoch are combined in one picture. Antiquity is immortalized on the 5-euro note, Romanticism on the 10-euro note, Gothic on the 20-euro note, Renaissance on the 50-euro note, the stylistic features of the Baroque as well as the Rococo are united on the 100-euro note, iron and glass architecture can be seen on the 200-euro note and modern 20th century architecture on the 500-euro note.
In addition, the German graphic artist Reinhold Gerstetter designed the second generation of euro banknotes. These will be introduced gradually from 2013 onwards.
Who prints the euro banknotes?
Until the end of 2002, the first letter of the serial number on the reverse of a euro banknote indicated which national central bank commissioned the issue. From 2003 onwards, only a few national banks have this right. The freshly printed banknotes will then be transported by the printing works throughout the euro area.
Today, the origin of the banknotes can only be identified from the printing works code on the front of the notes. The first letter indicates the printing works from which the banknotes come. The printing works code has 6 digits and is made up of one letter, three digits, one letter and one digit.
Discussion on the abolition of the 1 and 2 cent coins
In some euro states it is not common to pay with 1 and 2 cent coins. In Finland they were not even introduced as a means of payment. That is why amounts there are rounded to -0 and -5 euro. Travellers carrying these coins may use them to pay, but they will not get change back in the same form. From 1 September 2004 this system will also apply in the Netherlands. The reason given here is the low circulation of these coins.
However, the possible abolition of these small coins is a cause for criticism. Firstly, there are fears that the ‘euro effect’ could reappear; secondly, it would mean the end of psychologically important threshold prices. However, countries where this is already a reality show that such fears are unfounded. In Finnish and Dutch shops there are still threshold prices that end at -.99 euros. Only at the checkout is the total rounded up or down accordingly.
On May 14, 2013, the EU Commission proposed a reduction in the price of the 1 and 2 cent coins, as their production and issuance exceeds their value, or their total abolition. With regard to the implementation of the former variant, costs can be reduced by using a different mixture of materials and a more efficient minting process.
Euro banknotes are considered to be highly counterfeit-proof by international standards. This is guaranteed by several security features. A security thread running in the middle of the banknote paper and fluorescent fibers are inserted into the paper during production. The security thread appears dark against the light and carries the value as a microprint. In addition, the banknotes are made of cotton fibres and parts of the motif are designed with fluorescent ink so that the fibres and the motif glow under UV light. When viewed in infrared light, the note reflects in different colours. When viewed against the light, a watermark shows the respective architectural motif as well as the value numeral.
The transparent register is located in the upper left corner of the front of the banknote. These are irregular characters which are printed on the front and back of the banknotes and together form a complete value numeral when viewed against the light. In addition, a continuous metallized foil strip is attached to the edge of the 5, 10 and 20 euro banknotes, on which the euro symbol or the value of the note appears as a kinegram, depending on the viewing angle. In the case of higher-value euro banknotes of EUR 50 or more, there is a foil element in the form of a hologram in the same place, in which either the architectural motif or the value numeral can be seen, depending on the incidence of light.
The combination of intaglio and iris printing creates a tactile relief on the front of the banknote, which is difficult to imitate and makes it easier for visually impaired people to distinguish the banknotes. The images of the gates and windows and the abbreviations of the European Central Bank can also be felt with the fingers.
On notes with a lower value, there is a gold transparent pearlescent stripe on the reverse. On notes with a value of 50 euros or more, the colour of the value numeral changes when tilted. In addition, euro notes are equipped with machine-readable markings that allow automatic authentication. Euro notes are also supposed to have other security features, but these have never been published.
From 2 May 2013, a new 5-euro note with additional security features was put into circulation. These included a number “5” that changes from emerald green to deep blue when tilted, a security thread, a watermark with the image of the mythological figure of Europe, tactile lines along the edges and a shiny hologram stripe. The new banknote has also been coated with a protective lacquer to make it more durable, giving it a wax-smooth feel.
In 2014, the European series was continued with a new €10 banknote and in 2015 with a new €20 banknote, on which the currency denomination is not only written in Greek and Latin, but also in Cyrillic script. It will also feature nine acronyms for the European Central Bank instead of the previous five.
Euro coins have a precisely defined mass as well as a certain size. 1 and 2 Euro coins are bicolor due to the combination of two metals. Their central part is slightly ferromagnetic, but the outer edge is not. 1, 2 and 5 cent coins are strongly ferromagnetic.
In 2002, the euro was awarded the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen for its contribution to the growing together of the family of nations and as an important integration step towards identification with Europe.
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