This August Belgian Germain Pirlot, a former teacher, will undoubtedly reflect on a letter he wrote during the same month 20 years previously. Mr Pirlot and his correspondence played a part in what was undoubtedly a historic development – one that opened a new era for an entire continent and changed global currency banking forever.
Germain Pirlot is not the man responsible for the single European currency, but it was nonetheless he who suggested the name “Euro”. On 4th August 1995 he wrote to European Commission President Jacques Santer with his idea and four months later the moniker was officially adopted at an event in Madrid.
The naming of a currency – and a significant one at that – is quite a feat for an individual to achieve in their lifetime, and as Mr Pirlot reflects on his contribution European financial society it is worthwhile remembering some of the other milestones in the Euro journey.
The significance of numerous countries swapping their long standing currencies for a single suite of Euros and Cents should not be understated. The impact on global finance was seismic and it is arguably the most significant achievement of the European Union in its history. Yet for all the fireworks on its launch the Euro very quickly became part of everyday life – not just for the residents of Eurozone countries, but for anyone who visits or trades with them.
The journey from concept to fruition was a remarkably quick one too, all things considered. The currency was established in the provisions of the 1992 Maastricht treaty, with Mr Pirlot’s memorable naming coming just three years later. Another milestone followed on 1st January 1999, when the Euro became available in non-physical forms such as banking and the currencies of participating countries ceased to exist independently.
On 1st January 2002, just a decade after Maastricht, Euro notes and coins went into circulation and early that year countries said farewell one by one to some well known currencies – the German mark, the Spanish peseta, the French franc and the Italian lira to name a few.
Today we don’t think twice about the Euro – whether buying the morning business newspaper in Frankfurt or hiring a sun lounger in Crete. The Euro has ultimately placed Europe in a competitive position in this ever changing world, while in many cases making tasks such as international payments easier for millions of people. Yet just 20 years ago this very familiar part of European life didn’t even have a name.