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Expansion of Euro Signals Solid European Integration - 2001-12-03

The prime minister of Luxembourg, one of Europe's banking capitals, says the arrival of the new euro currency on January 1 means the process of European integration is irreversible.

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview with the French news agency AFP said that the coming of the single currency means the European Union is here for good.

For 12 of the 15 countries in the European Union, euro notes and coins will enter circulation at the beginning of the year. That means travellers to the countries of Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland and Austria will no longer have to deal with the time consuming and costly process of changing money.

Though January 1 is the day the euro is being introduced on a wide scale, it has been in use for bookkeeping transactions in banking and business for almost two years.

Prime Minister Juncker says the big three powers in the so-called eurozone - Germany, France and Italy, - should watch their economic policy closely to ensure smooth operation of the euro. He says that the fact that budget deficits are currently creeping up in these countries is a passing phenomenon that will not jeopardize long-term efforts to tighten public finances.

But Prime Minister Juncker says he is disappointed with the level of coordination between eurozone economic policies at the moment. He said, "all of us, but especially the big countries, have an imperfect understanding of how to manage a currency collectively."

He says nations will have to get used to the idea that they no longer have sole control over how their economies are run. He also suggested that the eurogroup, which brings together finance ministers from the 12-eurozone states, should have a rotating presidency lasting for two or three years. The European Union has a rotating presidency that allows a single member state to coordinate EU business every six months.

Mr. Juncker has been Luxembourg's finance minister since 1989, and became prime minister in 1995. Along with his Dutch counterpart Wim Kok, he is the only serving EU leader to have been involved in the creation of the euro since the 1991 Maastricht Treaty negotiations that paved the way for the single currency.

Of the 15 EU countries, three are staying outside the eurozone. Britain, Sweden, and Denmark plan to retain their national currencies.