Latvia has begun the new year by joining the eurozone, becoming the 18th member of the group of EU states which uses the euro as its currency. The former Soviet republic on the Baltic Sea recently emerged from the financial crisis to become the EU's fastest-growing economy. Correspondents report much scepticism in the country after recent bailouts for existing eurozone members. But there is also hope that the euro will reduce dependency on Russia.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "I am delighted to welcome Latvia as the eighteenth member of the euro area. This is a major event, not only for Latvia, but for the euro area itself, which remains stable, attractive and open to new members.
For Latvia, it is the result of impressive efforts and the unwavering determination of the authorities and the Latvian people. Thanks to these efforts, undertaken in the aftermath of a deep economic crisis, Latvia will enter the euro area stronger than ever, sending an encouraging message to other countries undergoing a difficult economic adjustment.
"On behalf of the European Commission and myself, I offer my sincere congratulations to Latvia and best wishes for the future." Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, said: "I want to very warmly welcome Latvia to the euro. Your efforts have paid off and your country's strong economic recovery offers a clear message of encouragement to other European countries undergoing a difficult economic adjustment. Joining the euro marks the completion of Latvia's journey back to the political and economic heart of our continent, and that is something for all of us to celebrate."
From tomorrow, the euro will gradually replace the lats as the currency of Latvia. There will be a dual circulation period of two weeks, during which the two currencies will circulate alongside each other in order to allow for a progressive withdrawal of Latvian lats. When receiving a payment in lats, the change will be given in euro.