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There are eight euro coin denominations, ranging from one cent to two euros (the euro is divided into a hundred cents). The coins first came into use in 2002. They have a common reverse, portraying a map of Europe, but each country in the eurozone has its own design on the obverse, which means that each coin has a variety of different designs in circulation at once. Three European microstates which use the euro as their currency also have the right to mint coins with their own designs on the obverse side.
The coins, and various commemorative coins, are minted at numerous national mints across the European Union to strict national quotas. Obverse designs are chosen nationally, while the reverse and the currency as a whole is managed by the European Central Bank (ECB).
All coins have a common reverse side showing how much the coin is worth, with a design by Belgian designer Luc Luycx. The design of the 1-, 2-, and 5-cent coins symbolises Europe's place in the world as a whole.
In 2007, a new design was introduced to reflect the enlargement of the EU in 2004. The design still retains all elements of the original designs, including the twelve stars, however the map of the fifteen states is replaced by one showing the whole of Europe as a continent, without borders. The vertical ridges only appear over the sea. Following complaints about allergic reactions by some people who handle coins regularly (bus drivers, shop-keepers etc.) the metallurgical composition of the coins was altered to remove the amount of zinc that they contained. Cyprus is shown several hundred kilometres north west of its real position in order to include it on the map. On the €1 and €2 coins, the island is shown to be directly east of mainland Greece; on the 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins, it appears directly below Crete. The original proposal from the European Commission was to include Turkey on the map; however this design was rejected by the Council.
The first issue of these coins were minted in 2006, by the Mint of Finland, for the Slovenian euro coins. These coins came into circulation in 2007 and have been compulsory for existing members since 2008. The one-, two-, and five-cent coins remained unchanged, with the Commission stating that they remained unaffected as they show Europe's place in the world, even though the EU 15 are still highlighted on the map.
The original designs of the 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins showed the outline of each of the EU-15 member states. This meant that each state was shown as separate from the others, thus giving Europe the appearance of an archipelago. EU member states outside the eurozone (the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark) were also depicted. Non-EU states were not depicted, for example giving the impression that Sweden was a large male genital (as Norway was not on the map).
On the €1 and €2 coins, the landmass appeared more cohesive although borders were indicated. The vertical ridges also passed through some non-participating countries. As in current issues, all coins featured 12 stars in their design.
The year featured in the coins can date back to 1999, when the currency was formally established (only Belgian, Finnish, French, Dutch, and Spanish coins have 1999). These countries traditionally stamp the coin with the year of being minted rather than the year of being put into circulation.
The obverse side varies from state to state, with each member allowed to choose its own design. Each of the eight coins can have the same design (such as Belgian coins), or can vary from coin to coin (such as Italian coins). In monarchies, the national side usually features a portrait of the country's monarch, often in a design carried over from the former currency (e.g. Belgium). Republics tend to feature national monuments, symbols, or stylised designs (such as French coins). Engravings on the edge of the €2 coin are also subject to national choice.
There are, however, some restrictions on the design: it must include twelve stars, the engraver's initials, and the year of issue. New issues must also include the name of the issuing country (a rule currently breached by Germany and Greece, while Belgium, France and Italy use an abbreviation rather than the full name). It may not repeat the denomination of the coin or the word euro unless it is in a different alphabet (such as on Greek coins). This rule is flouted by Austria. The national side was also to remain unchanged until the end of 2008, unless a monarch depicted on a coin died or abdicated (such as in the case of the Vatican's coins).
There are at present no plans to abolish the national designs in favour of a common European one. However the Commission has proposed that the one-, two-, and five-cent coins have a common design to keep costs down.
Though they are not members of the EU, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City also have euro coins featuring a national side, but these coins are not put into general circulation by the authorities who instead sell them to collectors for prices higher than their face value. Andorra has reached an agreement with the EU to mint its own coin design, probably from 2013, but subject to ratification by the Andorran Parliament.
Future changes to national sides
The national sides of all denominations of the euro circulation coins should bear an indication of the issuing Member State by means of the Member State’s name or an abbreviation of it.
The national side should not repeat any indication on the denomination, or any parts thereof, of the coin neither should it repeat the name of the single currency or of its subdivision, unless such indication stems from the use of a different alphabet.
This Recommendation should apply to national sides and edge letterings of both normal and commemorative euro circulation coins. It should not apply to the national sides and edge letterings of both normal and commemorative euro circulation coins which have been first issued prior to the adoption of this Recommendation.
The above paragraphs, from a European Commission Recommendation of 19 December 2008, in essence, exhorted five eurozone members to change their national designs. Finland was the first state to do so, in 2007, Belgium did so in 2008 while Austria or Germany will not change their current designs for the time being. Greece is still pending.
The 1-, 2-, and 5-cent coins account for approximately 80% of all new coins minted in the eurozone. Due to the expense of producing such low value coinage, the Commission with some member states have proposed that costs could be cut by having a common design on both sides of these coins, rather than minting numerous different designs. 100 Cents is equal to 1 Euro.
The euro 1 and 2 coins are two-toned. The "gold" is an alloy, 75% copper, 20% zinc and 5% nickel. The "silver" is cupronickel, 75% copper, 25% nickel. The 10, 20 and 50-cent coins are a proprietary alloy known as "Nordic gold", consisting of 89% copper, 5% aluminium, 5% zinc and 1% tin. The 1, 2 and 5-cent coins are copper-coated steel fourrées. The copper alloys make the coinage antimicrobial.
The one- and two-cent coins were initially introduced in order to ensure that the introduction of the euro was not used as an excuse by retailers to heavily round up prices. However, due to the cost of maintaining a circulation of low value coins, by business and the mints, Finland and the Netherlands round prices to the nearest five cents (Swedish rounding) if paying with cash, while producing only a handful of those coins for collectors, rather than general circulation. The coins are still legal tender and produced outside these states. Despite this, many shops in the Netherlands refuse to accept them.
The Swedish rounding law in Finland was issued in January 2002 and thus before the coins were put into circulation. The Netherlands followed suit in September 2004, with Belgium making moves to follow in 2005. The Netherlands did so under pressure from retail businesses, which claimed that dealing with 1- and 2-cent coins was too expensive. After a successful experiment in the town of Woerden in May 2004, retailers in the whole of the Netherlands have been permitted to round cash transactions to the nearest five-cent since September 2004.
This is in part due to factors such as rising metal prices: De Nederlandsche Bank calculated it would save $36 million a year by not using the smaller coins. Other countries such as Germany favoured retaining the coins due to their desire for €1.99 prices, which appear more attractive to the consumer than a €2 price. This is echoed by the European Central Bank itself which supports the coins, stating it allows businesses to calculate prices more exactly to attract consumers, such as 99 cents. According to a Eurobarometer survey of EU citizens, Germans are most sceptical about the removal of the one- and two-cent coins from complete circulation in the eurozone, however on average there is a majority for their removal (58% for the one cent coin and 52% for the two cent coin in 2005). The Belgians are most supportive of their removal.
The Commission in 2010 released its guidelines on daily life euro cash questions, in order to give citizens guidelines on such issues with direct implications on their daily lives. These guidelines are based on 10 guiding principles. Two of these guiding principals were and still are; "No surcharges should be imposed on payments in cash"; and "Member States should not adopt new rounding rules to the nearest five cent".
Features for persons with impaired sight
Euro coins were designed in cooperation with organisations representing blind persons, and as a result they incorporate many features allowing them to be distinguished by touch alone. In addition, their visual appearance is designed to make them easy to tell apart for persons who cannot read the inscriptions on the coins.
The coins increase in size and weight with value. Of the eight denominations of euro coins, the three lowest denominations are small, resemble copper in colour and are quite thin and light. The next three denominations resemble gold in colour and are thicker as well as heavier. The highest two denominations are bimetallic, being generally larger and thicker than the lower denominations.
In general, the greater the value, the heavier and larger the coin. Copper colour identifies low value; gold colour identifies medium value; two different metals identify high value.
Although there have been other currencies predating the euro that were specifically designed in similar ways (different sizes, colours, and ridges) to aid the visually impaired, the introduction of the euro constitutes the first time that authorities have consulted associations representing the blind and visually impaired before the release of a currency.
Approximately 100,000 counterfeit euro coins are taken from circulation annually, and a similar number is seized before it can be released. Given a total circulation of 56 billion coins, counterfeit coins are relatively rare. About half the counterfeits feature the German national design, but counterfeits have been detected for every issuing country. The majority of counterfeit coins are €2 (60% in 2011), with most of the rest being €1, and a few 50-cent coins. The number of counterfeit €2 coins being found annually is decreasing, while numbers of counterfeit €1 and 50-cent coins are increasing.
Seized coins from circulation (totals):
- 2011: 157,000
- 2010: 186,000
- 2009: 172,100
- 2008: 195,900
- 2007: 211,100
- 2006: 163,800
- 2005: 100,500
- 2004: 75,564
- 2003: 26,339
The European Technical and Scientific Centre estimates that up to two million counterfeit coins were put into circulation in 2002.
Recent investigations by the European Commission have shown that the level of sophistication in the counterfeits is increasing, making prompt detection even more difficult. In 2008, Irish MEP Eoin Ryan called for tighter regulation over tokens and medals that are being increasingly used for small purchases mainly in vending machines across Europe.
Each state allowed to issue coins may also mint one commemorative coin each year. Only €2 coins may be used in this way (for them to be legal tender) and there is a limit on the number that can be issued. The coin must show the normal design criteria, such as the twelve stars, the year and the issuing country.
Greece was the first country to issue a commemorative coin, and was followed by all but Cyprus, Estonia and Ireland. However, in 2007 every eurozone state participated in the Treaty of Rome programme, where all member states issued a coin of similar design to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the only difference being the name of the issuing country and the language of the text.
Spain started a commemorative coin series Patrimonio de la Humanidad de la UNESCO (UNESCO World Heritage) in 2010, commemorating all of Spain's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which could continue until 2050. The order in which the coin for a specific site is issued coincides with the order in which they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Malta will issue a series of five €2 commemorative coins, all related to the Maltese constitutional history. The first coin was released in 2011 and the last coin will be minted in 2015.
Gold and silver commemorative issues
A legacy of old national practice is the minting of silver and gold commemorative coins. Unlike normal issues, these coins are not legal tender throughout the eurozone, but only in the country where they are issued (e.g. a €10 Finnish commemorative coin can't be used in Portugal).
However, these gold coins are intended for collectors as their bullion value vastly exceeds their face value. Some silver coins, such as the German €10 commemoratives, are often available at banks and some retailers at face value. These coins, however, generally do not circulate but are kept by collectors.
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- European Central Bank
- The Euro - Information Website
- Common guidelines for the national sides of euro circulation coins