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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 20:02 GMT
Greece asks to join the euro
Woman with euro notes
The euro has had a hard time since its launch
And then there were 12. Greece has applied to join the single European currency, the euro.

If accepted Greece would bring the number of countries in the eurozone to a dozen.

Also on Thursday, Denmark launched a campaign for membership, to end in a nationwide vote on the issue in September.

Sweden is holding a special congress at the weekend to decide whether to join.

And even the UK, still yet to give a firm decision on membership, announced it was spending 20m to update its computers in case it takes the plunge.

Greek PM Costas Simitis
Costas Simitis: "Historic moment"
Greece's formal application was no surprise as it had put the drachma into the European exchange rate mechanism in 1998.

"Today is an historic moment for the country. It opens a new era of security, stability and development," said Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

European Commission President Romano Prodi and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes said in a statement: "An enlarged area will be positive both for the eurozone area and for the countries joining."

The EU leaders are expected to approve Greece's application at their meeting in Portugal in July. The admittance will take effect from January 2001.

Greece is a member of the European Union, but was not allowed into the monetary union because of its high inflation and budget deficit earlier in the decade.

The drachma now meets the criteria for joining
Greek officials say inflation and the deficit have been brought down enough now to meet EU criteria.

It is the first applicant since the 11 EU nations merged their currencies at the start of last year.

Analysts say it provides a boost for the fledgling currency, which has had a traumatic existence so far.

It has fallen nearly 20% against the dollar. At one time parity was considered almost unthinkable, but the euro has sunk as low as 93.9 cents. On Thursday it stood at 96.86 cents.

Snap meeting

Denmark's prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, announced on Thursday night that a referendum would be held on 28 September.

The decision came after a snap meeting of party leaders to discuss Denmark's attitude towards the euro - it had declined to join in the initial phase.

"No one can be in doubt that EMU membership is the best thing for Denmark," said Mr Rasmussen.

Sweden, meanwhile, is holding a three-day congress in Stockholm to decide whether to work towards joining the euro.

'Little choice'

But European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg believes Sweden might have little choice in the matter.

"On simply legalistic grounds I think it is not possible to stay out," he told Swedish TV.

"Sweden has not asked for an opt-out clause for eternity, comparable to what the United Kingdom and Denmark have got, so I think there is no escape for Sweden."

The UK is for the moment staying on the sidelines. Some observers believe other countries from eastern and central Europe might be members of the eurozone before London finally says "yes".

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See also:

14 Oct 99 | Business
Is the UK ready for the euro?
20 Jan 00 | Business
Greece eyes the euro
30 Dec 99 | Business
The euro's troubled first year
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