New Euro Banknotes

On the 20th anniversary year of the debut of the euro, the European Central Bank (ECB) has issued new 100- and 200-euro banknotes.  It completes the second series of banknotes, called the Europa series, gradually introduced over the past 2 years.  Banknotes have to be updated from time to time to ensure protection against counterfeiting.  The ECB stopped printing the 500-euro bill, sometimes called the “Bin Laden” in 2016 after research linked its use to money laundering, tax evasion and terrorism financing.

The new security feature on the 100- and 200-euro banknotes is a satellite hologram with small euro symbols moving around the number (100 or 200).  Like the 50-euro banknote, the new ones also feature portraits of Europa in another hologram and in the watermark.  In Greek mythology, Europa was the consort of Zeus who, in the form of a bull, abducted her.  She lends her name to Europe as it was common in Greek mythology to identify lands as female figures.

Another new feature on the banknotes is the large number in the lower left corner that changes color from emerald green to dark blue when you tilt the banknote.  The ECB worked closely with sight-challenged people to facilitate use among these citizens.  The new notes have large digits in more contrasting tones to facilitate their recognition based on color.  Along the border are signs that are perceptible by touch.

The banknotes in this series are also much stronger.  They resist temperature peaks, abrasions, crumpling and sunlight.  They can even be washed in the washing machine and ironed. This means that these banknotes will have to be replaced less frequently, thus reducing costs and the impact on the environment.

The euro was launched on January 1, 1999, initially only for accounting and financial transactions. On December 31, 1998, the European Central Bank announced the definitive exchange rates: one euro will be worth 1,946.27 Italian lire, 1.955583 German marks, and 6.55957 French francs.  Stores and other institutions prepared to display prices in two currencies.  The new currency could be used by 291 million people for bank transfers and payments by check and credit card.

It wasn’t until January 1, 2002 that the euro formally replaced the former national currencies. In the beginning, it was adopted by 11 of the original countries in the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.  Over the years, as the EU expanded, the number of countries that adopted the euro also increased: Greece in 2001, Slovenia in 2007, Cyprus and Malta in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015.

Britain has always retained the pound by negotiating an “opt-out” from the Maastricht Treaty that created the EU.  Denmark and Sweden also rejected the single currency.  But for Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City, the euro is the official currency. It is also used in Guadalupe, Martinique and Saint-Barthelemy in the Caribbean, in Mayotte and Reunion in the Indian Ocean, and in the Azores, Canary Islands, Madeira, Kosovo and Montenegro.

The euro is the most important international currency after the dollar.  The initial exchange rate was 1.18 but there have been many fluctuations over the years, from a low of 0.83 in 2001 to a record high of 1.60 in July 2008 at the start of the Great Recession.

The change to the euro has triggered a series of controversies and challenges over the years starting with the initial exchange rate, which many considered too burdensome for Italy.  It has been blamed for increasing the cost of living and remains the easy target of populists, who blame the single currency on the economic crisis that has strained Italy and other European countries.  They regret not being able to devalue the currency in order to improve competitiveness; yet doing this would undermine families’ purchasing power. So far, the euro has withstood its detractors.  According to surveys, 65% of Italians favor the single currency.

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