Euro, monetary unit and currency of the European Union (EU). It was introduced as a noncash monetary unit in 1999, and currency notes and coins appeared in participating countries on January 1, 2002. After February 28, 2002, the euro became the sole currency of 12 EU member states, and their national currencies ceased to be legal tender. Other states subsequently adopted the currency. The euro is represented by the symbol €.
Supporters of the euro argued that a single European currency would boost trade by eliminating foreign exchange fluctuations and reducing prices. Although there were concerns regarding a single currency, including worries about counterfeiting and loss of national sovereignty and national identity, 11 countries (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) formally joined the EMU in 1998. Britain and Sweden delayed joining, though some businesses in Britain decided to accept payment in euros. Voters in Denmark narrowly rejected the euro in a September 2000 referendum. Greece initially failed to meet the economic requirements but was admitted in January 2001 after overhauling its economy.
In 2007 Slovenia became the first former communist country to adopt the euro. Having demonstrated fiscal stability since joining the EU in 2004, both Malta and the Greek Cypriot sector of Cyprus adopted the euro in 2008. Other countries that adopted the currency include Slovakia (2009), Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014), and Lithuania (2015). (The euro is also the official currency in several areas outside the EU, including Andorra, Montenegro, Kosovo, and San Marino.) The 19 participating EU countries are known as the euro area, euroland, or the eurozone.
In 1998 the European Central Bank (ECB) was established to manage the new currency. Based in Frankfurt, Germany, the ECB is an independent and neutral body headed by an appointed president who is approved by all member countries to serve an eight-year term. The euro was launched on January 1, 1999, replacing the precursor ECU at a 1:1 value. Until the circulation of currency notes and coins in 2002, the euro was used only by financial markets and certain businesses. Many experts predicted that the euro could eventually rival the U.S. dollar as an international currency.
Unlike most of the national currencies that they replaced, euro banknotes do not display famous national figures. The seven colorful bills, designed by the Austrian artist Robert Kalina and ranging in denomination from €5 to €500, symbolize the unity of Europe and feature a map of Europe, the EU’s flag, and arches, bridges, gateways, and windows. The eight euro coins range in denominations from one cent to two euros. The coins feature one side with a common design; the reverse sides’ designs differ in each of the individual participating countries.