The euro (sign: €; code: EUR) is the currency used by the Institutions of the European Union and is the official currency of the eurozone, which consists of 17 of the 27 member states of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. The currency is also used in a further five European countries and consequently used daily by some 332 million Europeans. Additionally, more than 175 million people worldwide—including 150 million people in Africa—use currencies pegged to the euro.
The euro is the second largest reserve currency as well as the second most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar. As of September 2012, with more than €915 billion in circulation, the euro has the highest combined value of banknotes and coins in circulation in the world, having surpassed the US dollar. Based on International Monetary Fund estimates of 2008 GDP and purchasing power parity among the various currencies, the eurozone is the second largest economy in the world.
The name euro was officially adopted on 16 December 1995. The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency on 1 January 1999, replacing the former European Currency Unit (ECU) at a ratio of 1:1 (US$1.1743). Euro coins and banknotes entered circulation on 1 January 2002. While the euro dropped subsequently to US$0.8252 within two years (26 October 2000), it has traded above the US dollar since the end of 2002, peaking at US$1.5990 on 15 July 2008. Since late 2009, the euro has been immersed in the European sovereign-debt crisis which has led to the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility as well as other reforms aimed at stabilising the currency. In July 2012, the euro fell below US$1.21 for the first time in two years, following concerns raised over Greek debt and Spain's troubled banking sector.