On January 1, 2002, Europeans were not only nursing their hangovers, they were taking part in the most ambitious currency swap in history. Twelve nations—incorporating some 300-million people—threw their historic monies into the kiln to forge a new common currency: the euro (symbol: € — code: EUR — 1€ = 100 cents), a legal tender to enhance established trade, encourage new deals, and rival the U.S. dollar.
The first trading session of the euro was New Year’s Day (Tuesday) January 1, 2002, and all the shops and banks were closed for the holiday. People rushed to the ATMs in their respective countries to withdraw the new money. Some machines ran out of cash or inexplicably broke down, while others simply spewed out the old currency. On Wednesday, January 2, the banks opened and they were immediately flooded with people anxious to exchange the old for the new. It was a historic day that called for something special, thus some banks (such as the Sparkasse Bank in Bad Aibling, Germany near my apartment at the time) served champagne to those who were queuing in the monstrous line that extended out the door and into the parking lot.
Today, some 15 years later, the European Union (EU) has grown exponentially, more than doubling in size to 28 member countries. Of these, however, only 19 actually use the euro as their common currency. This block of nations is collectively known as the Eurozone, also referred to as the “euro area,” consisting of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. (Note that the micro-states of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City also use the euro but on the basis of a formal arrangement with the European Community. Montenegro and Kosovo likewise use the euro, but without a formal arrangement.)
Managing the euro:
The chief manager of the euro is the European Central Bank (ECB), located in Frankfurt, Germany. Each Eurozone country, however, has its own central bank, which issues euro bank notes. In Ireland, for example, its managing euro bank is called the Central Bank of Ireland, headquartered in Dublin.
EU member states not using the euro:
The 9 EU countries presently not using the euro as their single currency are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. (Note: Some of the aforesaid countries have elected not to use the euro — with the UK taking it to another level and is preparing for its famed Brexit — while other nations would like to be a part of the euro zone but they must first wait until certain bureaucratic and monetary requirements are met as a precaution for the EU to avoid another Greek-style melt down.)
To give you a more creative look at the euro, click on the following 2-minute video produced by the ECB (but ignore the end which promotes a video game aimed at kids).
All euro notes are shared by the 19 participating lands and are neutrally designed the same. The set includes seven denominations: 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€ and the 500€ note.
(Click here to view specimens and features of each note.)
The following 2-minute video provides an in-depth, 5-point look into the new 50-euro note, release date April 2017, part of the second-generation Europa Series.
All euro coins are shared just the same as the notes; however, their reverse — or national — sides are designed individually by country. The set includes eight denominations: 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, 1€ and the 2€ coin. (1€ = 100 cents.)
(Click here to view the common and national sides of each coin.)
Since the coins are individually designed, many people find it interesting to behold the different nations they have in their pockets. For hobbyists, the coins can be worth much more than their face value; such is the case with the specially minted Vatican euro coins featuring Pope John Paul II. Enthusiasts may also swap a higher-value coin for a lesser-value coin to complete their collection. For example, a possible trade could be Latvia’s 20-cent coin portraying its coat of arms for Italy’s 5-cent coin featuring the gladiatorial Roman Colosseum or Spain’s 10-cent coin displaying the magnificent cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a jewel of Spanish Romanesque architecture and the end pilgrimage point in the Way of St. James.
Many coins are not engraved with its country’s name, so here are a few hints to help you identify what land you have in your hand.
Austria: The edelweiss flower (2¢) or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1€), both seen in the header photo at the top of the page.
Belgium has two series of coins in circulation. The first set depicts a glasses-wearing King Albert II and his royal monogram. The more recent design features King Philippe, his monogram “FP,” and the letters “BE” for Belgium.
Cyprus: Look out for the Kyrenia ship (10¢, 20¢, 50¢), a trading vessel dating from the 4th century B.C., symbolic of Cyprus’ seafaring history and importance as a center of commerce.
Estonia: On every one of this country’s coins are the letters EESTI as well as the geographic land formation of Estonia.
Finland: A pair of cloudberry flowers (2€), flying geese (1€), or on all of Finland’s cent coins look for its heraldic sword-wielding lion (the latter seen in the header photo at the top of the page).
France: The letters RF for Republic of France.
Germany: The federal eagle (1€, 2€), Brandenburg Gate (10¢, 20¢, 50¢), or oak leaves (1¢, 2¢, 5¢).
Greece: The words ΛENTA (cent) or EYPΩ (euro).
Ireland: The Irish government decided on a single design for all its coins, which depict the Celtic harp, a traditional symbol of Ireland, alongside the inscription “Éire,” Gaelic for Ireland.
Italy: The letters RI for Republic of Italy, which is represented twice in the header photo at the top of the page (Colosseum right side of photo and adjacent is Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” with long flowing hair).
Latvia: This country’s coat of arms are depicted on all of its cent coins, and on its 1€ and 2€ coins is the design of a folk maiden originally used on Latvia’s silver 5 lats coin in the year 1929.
Lithuania: All the coins of this Baltic land feature Lithuania’s equestrian coat of arms, encircled by the 12 stars represented on the European flag that symbolize the unity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.
Luxembourg: All coins belonging to this beautiful Benelux nation depict the profile of HRH Grand Duke Henri and the word Lëtzebuerg, meaning Luxembourg.
Malta: The 1€ and 2€ coins of this tiny island nation in the Mediterranean feature the iconic eight-pointed Maltese cross — seen in the slider at the top of the page — which takes its name from the Sovereign Order of Malta, Christian knights who ruled Malta from 1530-1798.
Netherlands has two royal sets of coins in circulation. The first regal series depicts the profile of Queen Beatrix, who got replaced in the latest design set by her son King Willem-Alexander and the following inscription in Dutch: “Willem-Alexander King of the Netherlands.”
Portugal: Coins from this European nation feature royal seals and heraldic shields dating from the mid-12th century.
Slovakia: 10¢, 20¢, 50¢ coins from this Slavic nation, locally Slovensko, portray the hilltop *fortress lording over its capital city, Bratislava — *seen in the slider at the top of the page — and its 1€ and 2€ coins feature the Slovak coat of arms: a double silver cross rising above the three mountains of Matra, Tatra, and Fatra.
Slovenia is fairly easy to recognize since the eight letters of its name are separated by 12 stars on the edge of this country’s coins. Most interesting is the pair of galloping Lipizzaners on Slovenia’s 20-cent piece.
Spain: España, look out for the *cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (1¢, 2¢, 5¢), which contains the relics of the apostle St. James the Greater (*seen in the slider at the top of the page).
If you’re thirst for EU and ECB knowledge is not yet quenched, click the following 7-minute video taking you all the way back to end of World War II, and building a new future for Europe.
(Last updated January 2017)