Initial changeover (2002)

The cash changeover in 2002 was a significant event in Europe’s history and a major technical achievement. On 1 January that year euro banknotes and coins were introduced in 12 countries with a total of population of 308 million. It was the world’s largest ever monetary changeover, involving the banking sector, security carriers, retailers, the cash-operated machine industry and, of course, the general public.

The preparations were extensive. Euro cash was distributed to banks and retailers as from September 2001 to avoid bottlenecks in the supply chain. As a result, it was widely available in all sectors in the first days of 2002. By 3 January, 96% of all cash dispensers in the euro area were issuing euro banknotes. One week after the introduction more than half of all cash transactions were in euro.

After a dual circulation period, which in some countries lasted for up to two months and when payments could be made in euro cash or the national currency, the euro became the sole legal tender in the euro area on 1 March 2002. By that date, more than 6 billion banknotes and close to 30 billion national coins had been withdrawn.


Printing the euro banknotes

The ECB coordinated and monitored the banknote production at 15 sites, involving some 40 different raw material suppliers. A common quality management system ensured an identical standard for all banknotes.

Although the individual countries were (and are) responsible for euro coins, the ECB acted as a neutral assessor of coin quality to make sure that they could be used in vending machines throughout the euro area.

The production of euro banknotes started in July 1999 and involved 15 banknote printing works located across the European Union. By 1 January 2002, an initial supply of 14.89 billion banknotes, including logistical stocks, had been printed for the 12 countries. With a total face value of some €633 billion, the banknotes, if placed end to end, would have reached the moon and back two and a half times.

An additional production volume, amounting to 1.91 billion banknotes, was subsequently approved by the ECB’s Governing Council. The purpose of this central reserve stock was to cover any major risk resulting from delays in the production of the launch and logistical stocks; it therefore contributed to a smooth cash changeover. Those banknotes remaining in the central reserve stock after it served its function were then transferred to the Eurosystem Strategic Stock, which was built up after the changeover to accommodate unexpected surges in demand.

Around 52 billion coins, with a total value of €15.75 billion, were produced by 16 European mints, using 250,000 tonnes of metal.

Initial production figures

Table 1 shows the initial supply volume for the 2002 cash changeover produced between 1999 and 2001. Table 2 shows the production figures per denomination. Each national central bank was responsible for deciding where to print the initial supply of banknotes required in its respective country and each Member State was responsible for its own coin requirements. Banknote and coin production figures.

Table 1

Country Millions of euro banknotes produced by 1 January 2002 for each country
Belgium 550
Germany 4,783
Greece 617
Spain 1,924
France 2,265
Ireland 294
Italy 2,440
Luxembourg 46
Netherlands 659
Austria 550
Portugal 537
Finland 225
TOTAL for the initial changeover 14,890

Table 2

Denomination Millions of banknotes produced by 1 January 2002
€5 3,155
€10 3,221
€20 3,406
€50 3,283
€100 1,231
€200 223
€500 371
TOTAL for the initial changeover 14,890