The euro (sign: €; code: EUR) is the official currency of the European Union. Currently 19 of 28 member states use the euro (eurozone). It is the second most traded currency in the foreign exchange market after the United States dollar. The euro is subdivided into 100 cents (defined as eurocent).
The currency is also officially used by the institutions of the European Union and four other European countries, as well as unilaterally by two others, and is consequently used daily by some 337 million Europeans as of 2015. Outside Europe, a number of overseas territories of EU members also use the euro as their currency. Additionally, 210 million people worldwide as of 2013 use currencies pegged to the euro.
The euro is the second largest reserve currency as well as the second most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar. As of January 2017, with more than €1,109,000,000,000 in circulation, the euro has one of the highest combined values of banknotes and coins in circulation in the world, having surpassed the U.S. dollar.
The name euro was officially adopted on 16 December 1995 in Madrid. The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency on 1 January 1999, replacing the former European Currency Unit (ECU) at a ratio of 1:1 (US$1.1743). Physical euro coins and banknotes entered into circulation on 1 January 2002, making it the day-to-day operating currency of its original members, and by May 2002 had completely replaced the former currencies. While the euro dropped subsequently to US$0.8252 within two years (26 October 2000), it has traded above the U.S. dollar since the end of 2002, peaking at US$1.6038 on 18 July 2008. Since late 2009, the euro has been immersed in the European sovereign-debt crisis which has led to the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility as well as other reforms aimed at stabilising the currency. In July 2012, the euro fell below US$1.21 for the first time in two years, following concerns raised over Greek debt and Spain’s troubled banking sector. As of December 2017, the euro–dollar exchange rate stands at ~US$1.19.
The euro was established by the provisions in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. To participate in the currency, member states are meant to meet strict criteria, such as a budget deficit of less than three percent of their GDP, a debt ratio of less than sixty percent of GDP (both of which were ultimately widely flouted after introduction), low inflation, and interest rates close to the EU average. In the Maastricht Treaty, the United Kingdom and Denmark were granted exemptions per their request from moving to the stage of monetary union which resulted in the introduction of the euro.
The name “euro” was officially adopted in Madrid on 16 December 1995. Belgian Esperantist Germain Pirlot, a former teacher of French and history is credited with naming the new currency by sending a letter to then President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, suggesting the name “euro” on 4 August 1995.
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 of one euro in terms of the exchange rates at which the currency entered the euro are shown on the right.
The rates were determined by the Council of the European Union, based on a recommendation from the European Commission based on the market rates on 31 December 1998. They were set so that one European Currency Unit (ECU) 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. 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.
The procedure used to fix the conversion rate between the Greek 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.
The currency was introduced in non-physical form (traveller’s cheques, electronic transfers, banking, etc.) at midnight on 1 January 1999, when the national currencies of participating countries (the eurozone) ceased to exist independently. Their exchange rates were locked at fixed rates against each other. 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 euro 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, where the mark officially ceased to be legal tender on 31 December 2001, though the exchange period lasted for two months more. Even after the old currencies ceased to be legal tender, they continued to be accepted by national central banks for periods ranging from several years to indefinitely (the latter for Austria, Germany, Ireland, Estonia and Latvia in banknotes and coins, and for Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Slovakia in banknotes only). The earliest coins to become non-convertible were the Portuguese escudos, which ceased to have monetary value after 31 December 2002, although banknotes remain exchangeable until 2022.
Euro-area Member States
Non-euro area Member States
Member States with an opt-out