The European single currency1 with legal value since the 1st January 1999. The name was given to the currency during the European Council meeting of Madrid on the 15th/16th December 1996. The first euro bank-notes and coins2 will be put into circulation in January 2002, and from the 1st March 2002 the old national currencies will cease3 to be legal tender4. The euro is one of the results of the Maastricht Treaty (7th February 1992) when the European Union was born from the ashes5 of the EEC.
The European Monetary Union is currently composed by 11 countries: France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Finland. During the transition period, the euro may be used instead of the national currencies for all those transactions which do not involve cash6. The first euro bank-notes will be put into circulation in January 2002. They will circulate in parallel with the national currencies until June of the same year, when they will definitely replace the latter for all public and private transactions. During the first two months of 2002, therefore, the euro will coexist with the national currencies and will be exchanged7 applying the irrevocable conversion rates established by the authorities of the European Monetary Union on the 31st December 1998 (for example: 1 euro = 1936.27 Italian lire). The euro is divided in one hundred cents, the cent is its lowest unit. The coins will be denominated in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euro; the bank-notes, on the other hand8, will have a value of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euro units9.