10th Anniversary of the Euro

Italy’s 1-euro coin

In 2002, 15 members of the European Union changed their individual national currencies to a new currency that would be used by them all – the euro. This was probably one of the biggest currency changeovers in modern history, and the most well-known example of a currency union (where multiple countries use the same kind of money).

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the coins and bills of the euro (which was first used in 1999 for electronic transactions between nations). The euro (always lowercase, like dollar or penny) is currently used by 17 countries in Europe:

    • Austria
    • Belgium
    • Cyprus
    • Estonia
    • Finland
    • France
    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Ireland
    • Italy
    • Luxembourg
    • Malta
    • The Netherlands
    • Portugal
    • Slovakia
    • Slovenia
  • Spain
France’s 2-euro coin

And three independent city-states:

  • Monaco (in France)
  • San Marino (in Italy)
  • Vatican City (in Italy)
Back in 2002, the first 15 European Union members to convert to the euro were: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Vatican City. Slovenia switched to the euro in 2007, Malta and Cyprus in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, and Estonia in 2011.  The European Central Bank has an interactive map showing the growth of the euro-using area.
The euro is worth the same amount in any of the above euro member countries (which are collectively referred to as the Eurozone). That means that if you live in France and travel to Spain, you don’t have to exchange your French money for Spanish money. (Within the United States, we’re quite familiar with this – if you travel from California to Florida, you don’t have to change your money for “Florida dollars”. US dollars can frequently be used outside of the States, but that’s not the same as a currency union like the Eurozone.)
The reverse sides of the 8 standard euro coins

The standard euro coins come in denominations of:

  • 1 cent
  • 2 cents
  • 5 cents
  • 10 cents
  • 20 cents
  • 50 cents
  • 1 euro
  • 2 euros
Individual countries may mint commemorative coins larger than 2 euros, such as Portugal’s 2.5-euro coins, Slovenia’s 3-euro coins, and Germany’s 10-euro silver coins. But these are generally only for collecting.
Euro 2-cent obverses (left to right):
Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and France

Each country that issues euros has a unique design on the front (obverse) of their coins. These designs allow you to figure out which country the coin came from. The European Central Bank has pictures of every euro’s obverse (also called the national side) to assist you in identifying coins.  The obverse is also where you’ll find the date of the coin. Even though euro coins weren’t put into circulation until 2002, minting of the coins began in some countries in 1999 in order for there to be enough for the changeover. In France, Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, and Spain, the coins had the year that they were minted (even though they were not going to be issued until 2002) – so it is possible to find coins dated 1999, 2000, and 2001 from these countries.

The 2-euro coins are frequently minted with special commemorative designs to honor a person, place, or event. The European Central Bank has pictures of the commemorative 2-euro coins issued by each country since 2004. Sometimes a single special 2-euro design is minted in all euro countries, such as 2012’s “10 years of the euro” coin.

The backs (reverse) display the amount and are the same in all countries. The coins are also the same size and shape in all countries, so the only difference you’ll see between an Austrian 1-euro coin and a Slovakian 1-euro coin is the design that is on the front.

Portugal’s 5-cent coin

For world coin collectors, the introduction of the euro meant that 15 countries were all getting new coins at the same time, and the former national coins were no longer going to be made. That means that over time, coins for the French franc, the Greek dinar, and the Slovenian tolar (among others) are going to be harder and harder to find. Each new country that relinquishes their national currency for the euro gives coin collectors a new opportunity to collect a new set of coins for that country. As a collector, it is exciting to have new types of coins to collect. But it is also sad to see the demise of the many and varied national coins from so many countries at once, and more to follow in the future.