From Conception to Launch: Twenty Years of the Euro

Marking the twentieth anniversary of the Euro’s electronic launch in 1999, this exhibit covers the thirty year process of designing and implementing a single currency system in the European Union. The exhibit includes relevant archival documents and visual materials preserved by the HAEU and by EU Institutions collaborating in this project. Beginning with the commitment towards monetary union established during the 1969 summit at The Hague, the exhibit traces the political debates on the project and the milestone reports of Pierre Werner and Jacques Delors, as well as the process of implementing a design and informing the European public.

The idea of a single European monetary system does not begin with the euro; rather it reflects a key element in the process of European integration. The purported benefits would include increased cross-border trade, efficiency, stability, growth, and employment. Following the 1969 summit, the Werner Report set out the stages of economic and monetary union. Founded in 1958 to support initiatives working towards European integration and innovation, the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank played a critical role in preparing European economies for the new monetary system. Then the 1988-1989 Committee for the Study of Economic and Monetary Union, also known as Delors Committee, composed of the EEC central bank governors together with four other experts and chaired by the European Commission’s President Jacques Delors, suggested three stages resulting in economic and monetary union, one of which was the adoption of a single currency. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht encouraged monetary union and put in place the criteria for eligibility to join the Union.

While a number of controversies threatened the single currency project, what was important was getting public support for the developing currency, so informing the public of the progress being made was of paramount importance. It was therefore essential that the design of the banknotes and coins was generally accepted by the public. In February 1996, the European Monetary Institute held a competition to determine the design of the Euro banknotes. The 44 designs were reviewed by a panel of experts and members of the public against three criteria: the designs must be acceptable to the public, have clear themes, and show artistic merit. The 2002 launch of the Euro banknotes marked the conclusion of European Monetary Institute’s most visible work.

Supervised by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, the Euro was adopted by 12 countries representing over 300 million citizens with another 7 members joining in the following decade. Almost immediately, the Euro became the second most widely used currency in the world.