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The eurozone, officially called the euro area, is a monetary union of 19 of the 28 European Union (EU) member states which have adopted the euro (€) as their common currency and sole legal tender. The other 9 members of the European Union continue to use their own national currencies.
The eurozone consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. Other EU states (except for Denmark and the United Kingdom) are obliged to join once they meet the criteria to do so. No state has left, and there are no provisions to do so or to be expelled. Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City have formal agreements with the EU to use the euro as their official currency and issue their own coins. Kosovo and Montenegro have adopted the euro unilaterally, but these countries do not officially form part of the eurozone and do not have representation in the European Central Bank (ECB) or in the Eurogroup.
The ECB, which is governed by a president and a board of the heads of national central banks, sets the monetary policy of the zone. The principal task of the ECB is to keep inflation under control. Though there is no common representation, governance or fiscal policy for the currency union, some co-operation does take place through the Eurogroup, which makes political decisions regarding the eurozone and the euro. The Eurogroup is composed of the finance ministers of eurozone states, but in emergencies, national leaders also form the Eurogroup.
Since the financial crisis of 2007–08, the eurozone has established and used provisions for granting emergency loans to member states in return for the enactment of economic reforms. The eurozone has also enacted some limited fiscal integration, for example in peer review of each other’s national budgets. The issue is political and in a state of flux in terms of what further provisions will be agreed for eurozone reform.
Main article: Enlargement of the eurozone
Nine countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) are EU members but do not use the euro. Before joining the eurozone, a state must spend two years in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II). As of 2015, the National Central Bank (NCB) of Denmark participates in ERM II.
Denmark and the United Kingdom obtained special opt-outs in the original Maastricht Treaty. Both countries are legally exempt from joining the eurozone unless their governments decide otherwise, either by parliamentary vote or referendum. Sweden, which joined the EU in 1995 after the Maastricht Treaty was signed, is required to join the eurozone under the terms of its accession treaty as soon as it fulfils the convergence criteria, which include being part of ERM II for two years. However, the Swedish people turned down euro adoption in a 2003 referendum and since then the country has intentionally avoided fulfilling the adoption requirements by not joining ERM II, which is voluntary.
Interest in joining the eurozone increased in Denmark, and initially in Poland, as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. In Iceland, there was an increase in interest in joining the European Union, a pre-condition for adopting the euro. However, by 2010 the debt crisis in the eurozone caused interest from Poland, as well as the Czech Republic, to cool. Lithuania adopted the euro in 2015.
Further information: International status and usage of the euro
19 European Union member states in the eurozone
7 European Union member states not in ERM II but obliged to join once convergence criteria are met
1 European Union member state in ERM II, with an opt-out (Denmark)
1 European Union member state not in ERM II, with an opt-out (United Kingdom)
4 non-European Union member states using the euro with a monetary agreement (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City)
2 non-European Union member states using the euro unilaterally (Kosovo and Montenegro)
he euro is also used in countries outside the EU. Four states – Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City — have signed formal agreements with the EU to use the euro and issue their own coins. Nevertheless, they are not considered part of the eurozone by the ECB and do not have a seat in the ECB or Euro Group.
Kosovo[g] and Montenegro officially adopted the euro as their sole currency without an agreement and, therefore, have no issuing rights. These states are not considered part of the eurozone by the ECB. However, sometimes the term eurozone is applied to all territories that have adopted the euro as their sole currency. Further unilateral adoption of the euro (euroisation), by both non-euro EU and non-EU members, is opposed by the ECB and EU.
Expulsion and secession
Further information: Greek withdrawal from the eurozone
Although the eurozone is open to all EU member states to join once they meet the criteria, the treaty is silent on the matter of states leaving the eurozone, neither prohibiting nor permitting it. Likewise there is no provision for a state to be expelled from the euro. Some, however, including the Dutch government, favour such a provision being created in the event that a heavily indebted state in the eurozone refuses to comply with an EU economic reform policy. Jens Dammann has argued that even now EU law contains an implicit right for member states to leave the eurozone if they no longer meet the criteria that they had to meet in order to join the eurozone.
The outcome of leaving the euro would vary depending on the situation. If the country’s own replacement currency was expected to devalue against the euro, the state might experience a large-scale exodus of money, whereas if the currency were expected to appreciate then more money would flow into the economy. A rapidly appreciating currency would be detrimental to the country’s exports.
One problem is that if Greece were to replace the euro with a new currency, this cannot be achieved very quickly. Banknotes must be printed for example, which takes up to six months. The changeover would likely require bank deposits be converted from euros to the new devalued currency. The prospect of this could lead to currency leaving the country and people withdrawing cash, causing a bank run and necessitating capital controls.
Administration and representation
Further information: European Central Bank, Eurogroup and Euro summit
The European Central Bank (seat in Frankfurt depicted) is the supranational monetary authority of the eurozone.
Euro Group President Jeroen Dijsselbloem
The monetary policy of all countries in the eurozone is managed by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Eurosystem which comprises the ECB and the central banks of the EU states who have joined the eurozone. Countries outside the eurozone are not represented in these institutions. Whereas all EU member states are part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). Non EU member states have no say in all three institutions, even those with monetary agreements such as Monaco. The ECB is entitled to authorise the design and printing of euro banknotes and the volume of euro coins minted, and its president is currently Mario Draghi.
The eurozone is represented politically by its finance ministers, known collectively as the Eurogroup, and is presided over by a president, currently Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The finance ministers of the EU member states that use the euro meet a day before a meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) of the Council of the European Union. The Group is not an official Council formation but when the full EcoFin council votes on matters only affecting the eurozone, only Euro Group members are permitted to vote on it.
Since the global financial crisis of 2007–08, the Euro Group has met irregularly not as finance ministers, but as heads of state and government (like the European Council). It is in this forum, the Euro summit, that many eurozone reforms have been decided upon. In 2011, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for these summits to become regular and twice a year in order for it to be a ‘true economic government’.
In April 2008 in Brussels, Juncker suggested that the eurozone should be represented at the International Monetary Fund as a bloc, rather than each member state separately: “It is absurd for those 15 countries not to agree to have a single representation at the IMF. It makes us look absolutely ridiculous. We are regarded as buffoons on the international scene.” However Finance Commissioner Joaquín Almunia stated that before there is common representation, a common political agenda should be agreed upon.