On January 1, 2014, the 17 so-called Eurozone countries, the member states of the European Union (“EU”) that have adopted the euro as their sole currency, will add Latvia as their 18th member. The introduction of the euro became a reality on January 1, 1999, when 11 of the then 15 EU countries adopted the euro.
For the first three years, the euro was a virtual currency…no euro bills and coins circulated. On December 31, 1998, 11 countries individually and irreversibly fixed the rate of exchange of their currencies to the euro. For example, France fixed its franc at 6.55957 francs to one euro, while Germany fixed its mark at 1.95583 marks to one euro.
And so the euro was born…but physical euro bills and coins would not be put into actual circulation until January 1, 2002. By then, Greece had become the 12th member of the exclusive Eurozone club at 340.75 drachmas to one euro. Today, there are 27 EU member countries, and 17 are Eurozone members…with Latvia soon to become the 18th and Lithuania the 19th on January 1, 2015.
To be ready to introduce the physical currency, member countries had worked intensely for over two years to print some 15 billion notes and mint some 50 billion coins. The total value of the bills and coins produced was some €650 billion. Introducing the new euro bills and coins to over 300 million EU citizens on January 1, 2002 required years of planning as well as political leadership and compromise…and extraordinary faith in the EU’s key institutions.
This blog post is the first in a series that will discuss key milestones in the EU’s history and current and future challenges facing the EU.