Cyprus and Malta adopt the euro

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Map showing the Eurozone

Today at midnight, the Republic of Cyprus and the Republic of Malta, both small island states in the Mediterranean and former British colonies, adopted the euro as their official currency; less than four years after their accession to the European Union. Because Cyprus and Malta are in different time zones, Cyprus adopted the euro one hour before Malta did the same. In both countries the euro was welcomed with outdoor celebrations, including a fireworks display in Malta's capital Valletta. According to the BBC Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris has said the euro "will benefit consumers and businesses alike because of the eurozone's low inflation, low interest rates and large market."

The BBC reports that Cypriot and Maltese leaders "made symbolic withdrawals of euros from cash machines just minutes into the New Year." TIME reports that Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had to wait a little while before getting his hands on the new currency because "an automated teller machine did not work when Gonzi tried to withdraw euros, and he was obliged to use a different ATM."

The Cypriot pound (CYP) and the Maltese lira (MTL) will remain in use during a dual circulation period that will last until the end of this month, at which point they will cease to be legal tender. However, it will still be possible to exchange them for Euro free of charge after the end of this period. Commercial banks in Cyprus will exchange Cypriot pounds for Euro until 30 June, but only for amounts up to CYP 1000 per customer and per transaction in banknotes and up to CYP 5O in coins. The Central Bank of Cyprus will exchange coins until the end of 2009 and banknotes until the end of 2017. Maltese commercial banks will exchange Maltese lira for Euro until the end of March, with a limit for non-customers of MTL 250, whereas the Central Bank of Malta will exchange coins until 1 February 2010 and banknotes until 1 February 2018.

Cquote1.svg We're sorry to say goodbye to our pound but happy to welcome the euro. Cquote2.svg

Tassos Papadopoulos, President of the Republic of Cyprus.

The single currency has replaced the Cypriot pound and the Maltese lira at a rate of one euro to 0.585274 Cypriot pound and 0.4293 to the Maltese lira, or 1.71 euro per Cypriot pound and 2.33 per Maltese lira. This conversion rate had been fixed on 10 July 2007 by Ecofin, the council comprising the finance ministers of the EU Member States.

Cquote1.svg Today with the adoption of the Euro, Cyprus and Malta have become even more integrated in the heart of the European Union, less than four years after they joined the EU. Cquote2.svg

Joaquín Almunia, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Cyprus and Malta are the 14th and the 15th country to join the Eurozone, which already includes Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Slovenia. All EU Member States are required to join the Eurozone once certain conditions are fulfilled, except Denmark and the United Kingdom which have negotiated a so-called opt-out that allows them not to adopt the single currency.

Cypriot €1 coin
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the de facto independent Turkish-controlled area in the north of Cyprus, will not join the Eurozone. Northern Cyprus is not part of the European Union and is recognised only by Turkey. As a result, the Turkish lira will remain the official currency in the north of the island; however, TIME reports that "many Turkish Cypriot merchants will also accept euros along with Turkish lira." Cypriot Euro coins are inscribed in both Greek and Turkish.

The euro will also be legal tender in the Sovereign Base Areas, British military bases in Cyprus.

The national sides of the Cypriot Euro coins feature three separate designs for the three series of coins. The 1, 2 and 5-cent coins feature the mouflon, or wild sheep, the 10, 20 and 50-cent coins feature the Kyrenia ship, the wreck of a 4th century BC Greek merchant ship discovered in 1967 and salvaged closed to Kyrenia, and the €1 and €2 coins feature the Idol of Pomos, a prehistoric sculpture from the village of Pomos, three national symbols of Cyprus. The designs were jointly created by Tatiana Soteropoulos and Erik Maell.

Maltese €1 coin
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Maltese euro coins' national sides will also feature national motifs. The 1, 2 and 5-cent coins will feature the altar of the Mnajdra temple grouping, a complex of three Neolithic temples on the southern coast of Malta and one of the oldest free-standing temple groupings in the world, the 10, 20 and 50-cent coins will feature the Coat of Arms of Malta, and the €1 and €2 coins will bear the Maltese cross, a symbol associated with an order of Christian warriors known as the Knights Hospitaller or Knights of Malta, which was based on Malta for more than 250 years after they had been given the islands by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The designs of Maltese engraver Noel Galea Bason were selected after two rounds of public consultations in which people were invited to vote via SMS.

Both Cyprus and Malta have taken a number of steps to address fears of undue price rises. 7,130 Cypriot companies have subscribed to a Fair Pricing Code launched by the authorities and the Cypriot government urged companies to round their prices down. In Malta, the FAIR initiative, a fair pricing scheme, was put in place in January 2007. This scheme, which provides for administrative fines for those failing to respect their commitment, now involves 80% of all retail outlets. Malta, according to the BBC, has also signed 12 price stabilisation agreements with importers, which will last until March 2008.

In both countries, the authorities will monitor retailers to ensure they do not exploit the changeover for unfair gain by rounding up their prices, contributing to inflation.

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