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Friday, January 1, 1999 Published at 13:51 GMT

E-Day: The euro is born

Bond traders in London are hard at work to get euro-ready

Europe's single currency, the euro, has finally become a reality after more than a decade of planning and preparations.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles: "A giant leap forward for European integration"
With the stroke of midnight local time on New Year's Eve, Finland became the first country to introduce the new currency at 2200 GMT. The bulk of the 11-country Euroland followed one hour later, and Portugal and Ireland were the last to join at 0000 GMT.

In many European countries fireworks and parties welcomed the euro - and the New Year. In Frankfurt, seat of the new European Central Bank, revellers watched a "euro clock" count down the seconds until the launch of the euro.

[ image: Countdown to E-day in Frankfurt's banking district]
Countdown to E-day in Frankfurt's banking district
The phased start of Europe's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) had no practical consequences as no financial markets were trading at that hour.

During the first few months the euro will be used mainly on stock markets, for financial transactions between banks and cashless shopping with cheques and credit cards. Euro bank notes and coins will not be introduced before 2002.

The BBC's David Shukman: "An irreversible step"
Old national currencies like the guilder or the escudo are now mere denominations of the euro, just like the penny to the pound or the cent to the US dollar, as the exchange rates of all currencies in the eurozone are "irrevocably" fixed.

[ image:  ]
The conversion rates were formally approved on Thursday during a special televised meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

Immediately after the rates were announced, financial experts around the world began to convert all their holdings of eurozone currencies, shares and government debts into the new currency.

They have just three days to do the job. Everything has to be ready when the first major financial markets open for business in Asia on Monday morning, 4 January 1999.

The euro rates

The decision on the conversion rates for the single currency was the final touch to monetary union.

One euro is now worth:

  • 6.55957 French franc
  • 1.95583 Deutschmarks
  • 1936.27 Italian lira
  • 40.3399 Belgium (and Luxembourg) franc
  • 166.386 Spanish pesetas
  • 0.787564 Irish punts
  • 2.20371 Dutch guilders
  • 13.7603 Austrian schillings
  • 200.482 Portuguese escudos
  • 5.94573 Finnish markas
There are 11 countries joining monetary union, but only 10 currencies, because Luxembourg and Belgium already have a currency union.

[ image: Jacques Santer and Wim Duisenberg celebrate the birth of the euro]
Jacques Santer and Wim Duisenberg celebrate the birth of the euro
Europe's single currency will soon be a veritable force on the financial markets, although it is difficult to predict how it will perform. Most analysts expect the euro to be a strong currency.

As one euro will replace the artificial European Currency Unit (Ecu) on a 1:1 basis, the last Ecu rates are an indication to the euro's external value.

On 31 December, one Ecu was worth

  • 1.16675 US dollars
  • 0.705455 pound sterling
  • 132.800 Japanese Yen

Wim Duisenberg, the president of the new European Central Bank that is in charge of monetary policy for the eurozone, told journalists that the bank would "do its utmost to ensure the euro is a currency in which European citizens can put their trust and which will keep its value over time".

Jacques Santer, the president of the European Commission, said the launch of the single currency was a historic event, which would bring stability and growth to Europe.

A snapshot of views from the streets of Europe
The final countdown to Europe's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) followed a carefully laid out script. European central bankers first established the market value of the Ecu.

Based on the result the European Commission calculated the euro-value of each currency joining EMU and then proposed the rates to the Council of EU Finance Ministers for approval.

The rates were then published in the Official Journal of the European Communities in Luxembourg and on the Internet.

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Internet Links

EU regulation on conversion rates (requires Adobe Acrobat reader)

Official conversion rates

News Online guide to Euro facts

EU's "eurobirth" website with EMU details

Official Journal of the European Communities

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