No celebrations are due to take place as the euro marked its 10th anniversary, but leaders seized the occasion to call for reforms needed to strengthen the EU common currency.
Apart from releasing a commemorative 2-euro coin, no festivities were planned, European Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly told reporters.
“The fact that there are no celebrations doesn’t mean that we are not proud of our single currency,” he said, adding that the euro is “one of the major achievements in Europe’s history”.
Thanks to the euro, inflation is below 2%, Bailly said, recalling that in the 1980s, interest rates for buying a house or a car were as high as 10%, while today they are “extremely low”. The absence of eurozone exchange rates saves between €20 billion and €25 billion every year, he said.
Introduced on 1 January 2002 amidst much fanfare, euro notes and coins replaced the national currencies of the first 11 members of the eurozone. Today 17 countries are members of the eurozone.
The euro fell to a 15-month low against the dollar, highlighting funding difficulties amid the region’s sovereign-debt crisis.
In their New Year messages, EU leaders mentioned the euro in the context of the efforts to put in place economic governance of the eurozone.
New Year wishes
“A common currency can only really be successful if we in Europe cooperate more than we have done,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a televised broadcast.
Merkel also said that while the German economy was doing well, 2012 would “without a doubt be more difficult than this one.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing a difficult re-election campaign later this spring, warned that 2012 would be the “year of all risks”, but also “of all opportunities”.
“Getting out of the crisis, building a new growth model, giving birth to a new Europe, these are some of the challenges ahead of us,” he said, adding that France would be stronger in achieving those goals united with its European partners.
Sarkozy and Merkel are due to meet on 9 January to discuss the next steps in dealing with the eurozone crisis. On 30 January an extraordinary EU summit will take place to discuss “strong action on employment” to ensure economic growth at a time when several EU countries are mired in or entering recession. On 1-2 March leaders are expected to sign the new intergovernmental treaty putting in place the so-called fiscal compact.
Berlusconi ousted ‘to save the euro’
In Italy, President Giorgio Napolitano too called for sacrifices. “No one today can shirk his or her responsibility to contribute to putting the public accounts on track and averting Italy’s financial collapse,” Napolitano said in a televised New Year address.
But Napolitano’s message was eclipsed by a press report that Merkel had called him on 20 October, urging him to help remove then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Merkel pressed for the removal of Berlusconi “in order to save the euro”.
The Italian president has to keep a neutral position in the country’s politics. However, the newspaper reported that Napolitano “quietly began sounding out Italy’s political parties to test the support for a new government if Mr Berlusconi couldn’t satisfy Europe and the markets”.