Slovenia ushered in the euro with a high-profile ceremony befitting of the keynote speakers' words about a historic event for the country as well as the whole of the EU
Slovenia ushered in the euro with a high-profile ceremony befitting of the keynote speakers' words about a historic event for the country as well as the whole of the EU. Dozens of senior European officials were on hand for the event in Ljubljana on Monday, 15 January, which took place as Slovenia bid a final farewell to the tolar, its currency of 15 years.
The ceremony was held after a two week period of dual circulation of the tolar and euro came to an end, and the single European currency became the sole legal tender in Slovenia. A host of special guests from around Europe congratulated Slovenia on the achievement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said Slovenia's adoption of the euro was a "moving moment", especially considering that she personally saw two changes of currency - first when Germany was reunified and then in 2002, when the euro was introduced.
Apart from Merkel, the ceremony at the Cankarjev dom conference centre was also addressed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, among others.
Barroso labelled the adoption of the euro an "important historic step for Slovenia". But it is also an important step for the EU, as it proves that the eurozone is not a "private restricted club; the euro is truly a currency of the EU."
Meanwhile, Juncker praised the courage that Slovenians displayed starting with independence in 1991 and all the way to the euro adoption this year.
Other heads of government speaking at the event were Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt, Greece's Kostas Karamanlis, Hungary's Ferenc Gyurcsany and Slovakia's Robert Fico.
The latter two also had paid a working visit to Slovenia, meeting with their host, Slovenian PM Janez Jansa, as well as other Slovenian officials.
The event "A Welcome to the Euro", organised by the Slovenian government and central bank, was billed as an opportunity for EU member states to celebrate the expansion of the eurozone to 13 members and stress the symbolic commitment to further expansion.
According to Merkel, the euro is a visible sign of Europe's growing international clout as well as a symbol of EU integration.
In memory of the historical event, Merkel gave Prime Minister Janez Jansa a German euro coin with the Brandenburg Gate on the national side, which she said was a symbol of what Europe has achieved - unity.
Juncker said that despite the many tangible benefits of the euro, citizens may still revel in nostalgia about their former currencies. It is therefore "crucial that we intensify our collective effort to explain to the citizens what the euro can do for them, and to caution them against asking the euro to perform where it simply cannot deliver".
The addressed were wrapped up by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who said the adoption of the euro was a big step for Slovenia, a small step for the European Monetary Union, and a step in the right direction at the right moment for the EU.
Jansa believes the adoption of the euro is "a timely response to the challenges of the future". "Since the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Slovenia has walked a successful path of development and transition. Today marks the landmark in another successful step," he said.
The ceremony was the final part of a day of celebrations of the arrival of the euro in Slovenia. Earlier in the day a conference was held on the euro in the nearby Grand Hotel Union, featuring finance ministers and central bankers from around Europe.
At that event, participants stressed that Slovenia stood to enjoy extensive benefits from adopting the euro, although it must also be mindful of the challenges ahead.
Meanwhile, Trichet, Barroso and Juncker reiterated calls for a lifting of restrictions on the movement of Slovenian workers in the EU.
"I can only recommend, once again, to member states to lift as early as possible the restrictions to the free movement of workers inside the EU or at least in the eurozone," Barroso told the press after the ceremony.
One of the biggest high-level events Slovenia has ever hosted passed smoothly, a good sign for Slovenia as the country prepares for the presidency of the EU in the first half of 2008.
Slovenia adopted the euro on 1 January, after two years of preparations in the ERM II mechanism, a waiting room for the euro.
The switch has been viewed as a major success, as confirmed by the latest report from the European Commission, which said that Slovenia's first two weeks with the euro have gone smoothly and no major problems had been encountered in the cash changeover.
Slovenian central bank Governor Mitja Gaspari explained on the margins of the conference that 90% of tolars in circulation had been collected by the banks, while only some SIT 10bn-worth (EUR 41.7m) remain in the pockets of consumers.
Source: Slovenian Press Agency STA
Author: STA, Slovenian National Press Agency