The euro (sign: €; code: EUR) is the official currency of the Eurozone, which consists of 19 of the 28 member states of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
The currency is also officially used by the institutions of the European Union and four other European countries, as well as unilaterally by two others, and is consequently used daily by some 337 million Europeans as of 2015. Outside of Europe, a number of overseas territories of EU members also use the euro as their currency.
Additionally, 210 million people worldwide as of 2013 - including 182 million people in Africa - use currencies pegged to the euro. The euro is the second largest reserve currency as well as the second most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar.
As of August 2014, with more than €995,000,000,000 in circulation, the euro has the highest combined value of banknotes and coins in circulation in the world, having surpassed the U.S. dollar. Based on International Monetary Fund estimates of 2008 GDP and purchasing power parity among the various currencies, the eurozone is the second largest economy in the world.
The name euro was officially adopted on 16 December 1995. The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency on 1 January 1999, replacing the former European Currency Unit (ECU) at a ratio of 1:1 (US$1.1743).
Physical euro coins and banknotes entered into circulation on 1 January 2002, making it the day-to-day operating currency of its original members.
The euro is divided into 100 cents (sometimes referred to as euro cents, especially when distinguishing them from other currencies, and referred to as such on the common side of all cent coins). In Community legislative acts the plural forms of euro and cent are spelled without the s, notwithstanding normal English usage. Otherwise, normal English plurals are sometimes used, with many local variations such as centime in France.
All circulating coins have a common side showing the denomination or value, and a map in the background. Due to the linguistic plurality of Europe, the Latin alphabet version of euro is used (as opposed to the less common Greek or Cyrillic) and Arabic numerals (other text is used on national sides in national languages, but other text on the common side is avoided). For the denominations except the 1-, 2- and 5-cent coins, the map only showed the 15 member states which were members when the euro was introduced. Beginning in 2007 or 2008 (depending on the country) the old map is being replaced by a map of Europe also showing countries outside the Union like Norway. The 1-, 2- and 5-cent coins, however, keep their old design, showing a geographical map of Europe with the 15 member states of 2002 raised somewhat above the rest of the map. All common sides were designed by Luc Luycx. The coins also have a national side showing an image specifically chosen by the country that issued the coin. Euro coins from any member state may be freely used in any nation that has adopted the euro.
The coins are issued in €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c denominations. To avoid the use of the two smallest coins, some cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents in the Netherlands (by voluntary agreement) and in Finland (by law). This practice is discouraged by the Commission, as is the practice of certain shops to refuse to accept high value euro notes.
Commemorative coins with €2 face value have been issued with changes to the design of the national side of the coin. These include both commonly issued coins, such as the €2 commemorative coin for the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, and nationally issued coins, such as the coin to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics issued by Greece. These coins are legal tender throughout the eurozone. Collector coins with various other denominations have been issued as well, but these are not intended for general circulation, and they are legal tender only in the member state that issued them.
The euro banknotes have common designs on both sides. The design was created by the Austrian designer Robert Kalina. Notes are issued in €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, €5. Each banknote has its own colour and is dedicated to an artistic period of European architecture. The front of the note features windows or gateways while the back has bridges, symbolising links between countries and with the future. While the designs are supposed to be devoid of any identifiable characteristics, the initial designs by Robert Kalina were of specific bridges, including the Rialto and the Pont de Neuilly, and were subsequently rendered more generic; the final designs still bear very close similarities to their specific prototypes; thus they are not truly generic. The monuments looked similar enough to different national monuments to please everyone.