25 years of euro unity
On 1 June 1998, the European Central Bank was established to prepare for the launch of the euro – the world’s largest ever currency changeover. As a lawyer at the time, I remember how frantically we were revising contracts based on foreign exchange rates that would soon disappear. Could the common currency really work? Today, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this institution, we know that it works and that the euro has brought Europe closer together.
Entrusted by European Union governments to safeguard the euro, our staff in Frankfurt, together with colleagues in the 20 national central banks of the currency union, work tirelessly to achieve our mandate of maintaining price stability. That work is critical for the prosperity of European citizens.
Over the past 25 years, we have welcomed nine new countries to the euro area, bringing us from 11 to 20. And we have taken on new roles, including the supervision of European banks. Today the euro is the second most important currency in the international monetary system, after the US dollar.
There have been some tough times along the way. But through the economic highs and lows steered by my predecessors Wim Duisenberg, Jean-Claude Trichet and Mario Draghi, the ECB has always focused on building a stronger foundation for Europe’s future through delivering on our mandate.
The pandemic and Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine have shown that stability cannot be taken for granted. And growing geopolitical rivalries may mean that the global economy becomes increasingly volatile in future. In a world of uncertainty, the ECB has been, and will continue to be, a reliable anchor of stability.
We have shown that we can act and adapt quickly in the face of even the most serious challenges. Only a few months after I became President of the ECB, we responded swiftly to the pandemic with an array of measures to support the euro area economy through its most acute phase, avoiding deflationary risks.
Today, we are acting with the same determination to bring inflation down. After years of being too low, inflation is now too high and is set to remain so for too long. That erodes the value of money, reducing purchasing power and hurting people and businesses across the euro area – especially the most vulnerable members of our society.
But we will bring inflation back to our target of 2% over the medium term. That is why we have raised interest rates at a record pace, and why we will bring them to sufficiently restrictive levels – and keep them at those levels for as long as necessary – to return inflation to our target in a timely manner.
As recent events in the banking sector remind us, the task of monetary policy is aided by a robust banking system. Financial stability is a precondition for price stability, and vice versa. Since 2014, when we took over banking supervision, we have worked to keep banks in the euro area sound. And banking supervisors chaired by Andrea Enria will continue our efforts to make sure that banks are well-capitalised and resilient to changing conditions, so that they can keep lending to businesses and households.
Our monetary union has been tested many times in the past quarter century. We have been confronted with crises that could have torn us apart – not least the great financial crisis, the sovereign debt crisis, the pandemic. But on each occasion, we have emerged stronger. We now need to build on that inner strength.
As the world becomes more unpredictable, Europe can foster resilience on two fronts. By integrating its capital markets, Europe can better facilitate investment in the green and digital sectors that are so crucial to powering its future growth. And by completing the banking union, we can ensure that the banking sector helps to dampen risks during future crises rather than amplifying them.
The former President of the European Parliament Simone Veil once said that “we need a Europe capable of solidarity, of independence and of cooperation”. This captures well what the euro represents. Ultimately, the euro is more than a currency. It is the strongest form of European integration and stands for a united Europe that works together, protecting and benefiting all its citizens.
And the ECB will always be a cornerstone of that effort.
This blog was published as an opinion piece in newspapers of all 20 euro area countries.