Since 1 January 1999 the European Central Bank (ECB) has been responsible for conducting monetary policy for the euro area - the world’s largest economy after the United States.
The euro area came into being when responsibility for monetary policy was transferred from the national central banks of 11 EU Member States to the ECB in January 1999. Greece joined in 2001, Slovenia in 2007, Cyprus and Malta in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015. The creation of the euro area and of a new supranational institution, the ECB, was a milestone in the long and complex process of European integration.
To join the euro area, the 19 countries had to fulfil the convergence criteria, as will other EU Member States prior to adopting the euro. The criteria set out the economic and legal preconditions for countries to participate successfully in Economic and Monetary Union.
The legal basis for the single monetary policy is the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank. The Statute established both the ECB and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) as from 1 June 1998. The ECB was established as the core of the Eurosystem and the ESCB. The ECB and the national central banks together perform the tasks they have been entrusted with. The ECB has legal personality under public international law.
The ESCB comprises the ECB and the national central banks (NCBs) of all EU Member States whether they have adopted the euro or not.
The Eurosystem comprises the ECB and the NCBs of those countries that have adopted the euro. The Eurosystem and the ESCB will co-exist as long as there are EU Member States outside the euro area.
The euro area consists of the EU countries that have adopted the euro.