The common currency used by 19 EU countries — the euro — was introduced 20 years ago today, on 1 January 1999.
EU leaders marked the anniversary of the historic occasion by heaping praise on the currency and its effects.
“The creation of the euro 20 years ago — alongside the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany— was a pivotal moment in European history,” said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council of EU national governments.
“Our common currency has since matured into a powerful expression of the European Union as a political and economic force in the world.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU’s implementing body, the European Commission, described the negotiations that led to the euro as “momentous”. He was one of the politicians who signed the Maastricht Treaty that led to the launch of the currency, back when he was prime minister of Luxembourg.
“Twenty years on, I am convinced that this was the most important signature I ever made,” he said. “The euro has become a symbol of unity, sovereignty and stability. It has delivered prosperity and protection to our citizens and we must ensure that it continues to do so.”
Eleven countries had committed to using the euro when it launched in 1999: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
Greece then adopted it in 2001, and since then Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia have all taken it up.
In a press release, the Council said that the euro “has brought visible and very practical benefits to European households, businesses and governments alike: stable prices, lower transaction costs, more transparent and competitive markets, and increased trade”. It also makes travelling and living abroad easier, the Council said.
In response to a survey, 74 per cent of people living in countries that have adopted the euro said they thought the currency was good for the EU, and 64 per cent said they thought it was good for their country.