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The euro (currency sign: €; banking code: EUR) is the official currency of the Eurozone (also known as the Euro Area), which consists of the European states of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. It is the single currency for more than 317 million Europeans. Including areas using currencies pegged to the euro, the euro affects more than 480 million people worldwide.<1> With more than €610 billion in circulation as of December 2006 (equivalent to US$802 billion at the exchange rates at the time), the euro has surpassed the U.S. dollar in terms of combined value of cash in circulation.<2>
While all European Union (EU) member states are eligible to join if they comply with certain monetary requirements, not all EU members have adopted the currency. All nations that have joined the EU since the 1993 implementation of the Maastricht Treaty have pledged to adopt the euro in due course. Maastricht obligated current members to join the euro; however, the United Kingdom and Denmark negotiated exemptions from that requirement for themselves<3>. Sweden turned down the euro in a 2003 referendum. Several small European states (The Vatican, Monaco and San Marino), although not EU members, have adopted the euro due to currency unions with member states. Andorra, Montenegro and Kosovo have adopted the euro unilaterally.
The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency in 1999 and launched as physical coins and banknotes in 2002. It replaced the former European Currency Unit (ECU) at a ratio of 1:1.
The euro is managed and administered by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) (composed of the central banks of its member states). As an independent central bank, the ECB has sole authority to set monetary policy. The ESCB participates in the printing, minting and distribution of notes and coins in all member states, and the operation of the Eurozone payment systems.