Year 2022 is here. Happy birthday, Euro!
On 1 January 2002 we began to carry in our pockets a brand new currency. Do you remember? We got into the habit of converting the prices newly expressed in euros into their lira equivalents; some of us did it by rounding ('a euro is more or less 2,000 lira'), others used calculators bought especially for this purpose. For two months both currencies circulated at the same time, meaning we could choose which one we wanted to pay with.
For a few months thereafter, we continued to think of our finances as if we still had two currencies, partially out of habit, and partially because some people had a difficult time understanding the denominations and comparative weight of the new euro notes and coins. Today we only hear reference to the lira in expressions used by those 40 years old or older, such as 'it's not worth a lira' (worth nothing), or in old songs from the last century, such as the 1939 'Se potessi avere mille lire al mese' ('If I had one thousand lire a month'), that some of us remember being hummed by our grandparents.
We can use the euros we have in our pockets in 19 different European countries, without having to exchange currency, which makes traveling to these countries less difficult and expensive than in the past. The euro makes other aspects of life - such as studying, working or living abroad - easier. In the eurozone, consumers can compare prices and make payments in euros outside their national borders. And thanks to the euro, companies can worry less about the impact of exchange rates on their transactions (read more here).
However the euro didn't just appear one day in our pockets out of nowhere, although it sometimes felt like it. Rather it came about as the result of a slow process of drawing closer together the different European countries, each with its own history, culture and economic structure.
The process leading to the Monetary Union coincided with the broad and complex one of integration of Europe, touching on a variety of subject matters. Yet many years were to pass between the birth of the European Community with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the arrival of the idea of a Monetary and Economic Union (MEC). And still more water had to pass under the bridge - the same bridges that appear on the new notes, and not by accident - until the creation of the eurozone.
The eurozone started with 11 European countries and, step by step, has now grown to 19 members. This march towards union gained strength in times of an expanding economy, but also, and perhaps above all, in 2011, when the sovereign debt crisis hit the euro area. In response, the European Central Bank and the national central banks took all measures possible to protect the euro, its value and citizens' savings: in 2012, with a phrase that has passed into the annals of history, the ECB president promised that his institution would do 'whatever it takes' to defend the common currency. And in fact, that is what they did.
Since their introduction, the euro banknotes' look has changed, but their value has not diminished. What these little pieces of paper represent is the mutual commitment to take this journey together, ever more closely bound and united, in search of shared solutions. To sum up, the euro is more than just a currency.
Happy birthday to the Euro, and to us, who have kept and continue to keep it alive!