Common european currency

E-day was January 1, 2002. It was the dawn of a new era, opening a new chapter in European history as twelve of the countries in the European Union issued their new euro banknotes and coins. E-day was the culmination of a six year programme to design and print over 14 billion euro banknotes and mint 50 billion euro coins. A mammoth undertaking. Around ten billion banknotes were put into circulation immediately, replacing national banknotes, while the rest were held in reserve to replenish stocks. The banknotes were issued in seven denominations: €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 and the new coins came in eight denominations - 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent, and €1 and €2. One euro is equal to 100 cents.

The symbol chosen for the new currency (€) is inspired by the Greek letter "epsilon", which is the first letter of the word Europe (ancient Greek name found in Greek mythology). The two parallel lines indicate euro's stability. The official abbreviation for the new currency, which has also been registered with the International Standards Organization (ISO) is EUR and can be used in financial, commercial and business activities.

Euro coins

The eight euro coins vary in size, weight, material, colour and thickness to facilitate recognition by the blind and the partially sighted. In addition the finish on the edges of the euro coins is different for each consecutive denomination. The coins have a common European side, designed by Luc Luycx of the Royal Belgian Mint. These common sides feature three designs, each centred on a different map of Europe against the background of the 12 stars of the European Union flag. The map on the three lowest denominations - 1, 2 and 5 cent - shows Europe in relation to the world. The 10, 20 and 50 cent coins represent the European Union as a group of individual countries. To emphasise the unity of the European Union, the same group is shown as an integrated whole on the €1 and €2 coins.

The symbol of the euro The 8 denominations of the euro coins

All coins are valid throughout the euro area, irrespective of the national sides of the coins. The national sides are different in each of the 12 countries and depict familiar national motifs. The high-value coins, the €1 and €2 coins, are bimetallic, with two different metals fused together, clearly showing two different colours. Their production process involves the very latest technology, which makes them difficult to counterfeit, as does the lettering around the edge of the €2 coin. A quality management system has been put in place to ensure that the euro coins will be interchangeable throughout the euro area. They will conform to the common standards necessary for use in all vending machines.

Though they are not members of the EU, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City (but not Andorra) also have euro coins featuring a national side, but these only occasionally end up in general circulation as their scarcity leads to greater interest from coin collectors. The coins from Monaco feature the royal family's coat of arms and seal and the portrait of the current ruler, Prince Rainier III. Those from San Marino have various towers and public buildings from the small nation on them as well as the national coat of arms and the Vatican coins present the portrait of Pope John Paul II. Having coins with the effigy of a religious leader accepted as legal tender caused some controversy in certain countries such as France. As for Andorra, it has secured the right to mint its own national reverse from the EU since the country will join the EU tax evasion system in 2005. For the time being, the authority to mint coins has been transfered from the Bishop of Urgell to the andorran goverment recently.

Euro design changes

Since the Euro was adopted in 2002, Belgium, Monaco and Spain have changed their national designs once, Vatican City has changed theirs twice, Belgium amended their national design once and Finland did so twice. There are very strict regulations governing the design and changes to the national face of Euro coins set forth by a combination of the European Council and the European Central Bank. Some national designs fall outside of the letter of these guidelines for a number of reasons:

Member State Reason for non-compliant design on all denominations unless otherwise specified
Austria Lack of national identification
Germany, Greece Lack of national identification
Netherlands, Luxembourg Indication of the issuing Member State's name is not surrounded by the twelve stars (€0.50, €0.20, €0.10, €0.05, €0.02 and €0.01)

Year mark is not surrounded by the twelve stars (€0.50, €0.20, €0.10, €0.05, €0.02 and €0.01)

Twelve stars not depicted as on the European flag (€2.00 and €1.00)
Slovenia Indication of the issuing Member State's name is not surrounded by the twelve stars

Year mark is not surrounded by the twelve stars

Euro banknotes

The banknotes were designed by Robert Kalina, designer at the Austrian national central bank in Vienna, who won the design competition. His designs were inspired by the theme "Ages and styles of Europe". He has depicted the architectural styles of seven periods in our rich cultural history (classical, roman, gothic, renaissance, baroque and rococo, steel and glass architecture, modern 20th century architecture). The resulting banknotes are attractive, have a number of security features and are representative of all the Member States involved.

The 7 european bank notes

On the front of the banknotes, windows and gateways symbolise the spirit of openness and co-operation in Europe. The 12 stars of the European Union appear on each banknote. On the reverse, a bridge from the same architectural period is featured, symbolising the close co-operation and communication within Europe, and between Europe and the world. The seven denominations of banknotes are printed with different dominant colours to aid identification. The size of the banknotes varies, increasing with the value. The €5 banknote is the smallest and the €500 the largest. The other main features of every euro banknote are:

  • The name of the currency written in both the Latin (EURO) and the Greek (EYPO) alphabets
  • The initials of the European Central Bank in the five linguistic variants - BCE, ECB, EZB, EKT, EKP - covering the 11 official languages of the European Community
  • The symbol © indicating copyright protection
  • The signature of Willem F. Duisenberg, President of the European Central Bank
  • The flag of the European Union

The different sizes and the bold, contrasting colours with "touch and feel" characteristics will help the blind and the partially sighted to identify the banknotes. These are just two of the four features incorporated into the banknotes after consultation with the European Blind Union. The other two features are: the printing of the values in large, bold figures, and the use of the intaglio printing process for some elements of the banknotes. Intaglio printing leaves the print raised in relief. Such tactile marks are also printed along the edges of the higher-value €200 and €500 banknotes.

Commemorative issues

Euro commemorative coins are commemorative variations of euro circulation coins, in the sense that they have a different national side from the standard one, and commemorate a specific event or personality. They comply with the denominations and with the technical specifications of euro circulation coins and have legal tender status throughout the euro area. As these coins must bear one of the common sides, the commemorative feature must appear on the national side so that the common side remains unaffected.

The volume of coins and/or the production period of this coin variation are limited. It has been agreed between Member States and the Commission that all commemorative coin issues would be limited to a single coin denomination (€2). Euro collector coins, on the other hand, are not intended for circulation and must differ from regular euro coins, therefore:

  • Their face value is different;
  • They do not use images which are similar to the common and national sides of the circulation coins;
  • Colour, diameter and weight differ significantly from the coins intended for circulation in at least two of these three characteristics
  • The legal tender status of these coins is also limited to the country of issue

Euro collector coin issues

According to the Conclusions of the Ecofin Council meeting on January 31, 2000, to ensure that Euro collector coins will be readily distinguishable from Euro coins intended for circulation, the coins must bide to the following rules:

  • The face value of collector coins should be different from that of the coins intended for circulation (i.e. Euro coins cannot have a face value equal to the 8 denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Euro cent and 1 and 2 Euro)
  • Collector coins should not use images, which are similar to the common sides of the euro coins intended for circulation. Furthermore, as far as possible, the designs used should also be at least slightly different from those of the national sides of circulation coins
  • Out of colour, diameter and thickness, euro collector coins should differ significantly from the coins intended for circulation in two respects
    1. Collector coins should not have a shaped edge with fine scallops, or "Spanish flower"
    2. The identity of the issuing Member State should be clearly and easily recognisable

Euro collector coins may be sold at or above face value and the approval for the volume of collector coins issue should be sought on an aggregate basis rather than for each individual issue. With respect to collector coins' denominations, that may coincide with the low denominations of euro banknotes, there does not seem to exist any significant risk of substitution. However, Member States should stand ready to consider any demands by the ECB on this matter. While Euro collector coins will have legal tender status in the issuing Member State, the competent authorities (NCBs, Mints or other institutions) should set up temporary arrangements through which owners of euro collector coins issued in other euro area Member States can receive the face value of those coins while bearing the costs related to this transaction.