Cyprus, Malta Adopt the Euro; Eurozone Club Members Expand to 15
Byline: John Leonidou
NICOSIA, Jan. 1 (AFP) -- Cyprus and Malta joined the eurozone on Tuesday, bidding farewell to the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira, expanding the club of countries using the single European currency to 15.
The eastern Mediterranean island adopted the euro one hour ahead of Malta to the west, less than four years after both states joined the 27-member bloc.
While Cyprus adopted a low-key approach, with President Tassos Papadopoulos making a symbolic withdrawal of euros from a finance ministry automatic teller machine, the smaller island of Malta welcomed the euro with a spectacular fireworks display.
As folk, pop and rock concerts were under way in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi withdrew the first euros from a cash distributor at the posh waterfront cruise liner terminal just after the stroke of midnight.
"This is the achievement of our target," Gonzi said. "We are the smallest state, but we are as proud as the larger states" in the 27-member European Union.
"Tomorrow marks not only the beginning of a new year but also the start of a new era for Cyprus, a hopeful era for the Cypriot citizen, the European Cypriot citizen," Papadopoulos said on Monday.
"The introduction of the euro is not simply a change of our national currency, it is in essence a change of the way of life, the crown of our European identity, the culmination of a correct fiscal policy, which we have followed with consistency and responsibility over the past few years," he added.
The combined 1.4-million population of two of the European Union's smallest members takes the number of people in the eurozone to around 320 million.
Shops, banks and businesses on both islands have been gearing up for the euro for several months amid consumer concerns it will lead to price hikes.
The European Commission ruled in May 2007 that the two island nations had met the strict economic criteria needed to become eurozone members, and set an exchange rate of one euro to 0.585274 Cyprus pounds and 0.4293 Maltese liri.
In Cyprus, stars including tennis ace Marcos Bagdhatis were recruited to front a marketing blitz, and queues formed outside banks across Nicosia last week as people got their first chance to lay their hands on the new currency.
Ethnically divided Cyprus, an island with a population of under one million, joined the 27member European Union in May 2004 but a recent survey found 70 percent of Greek Cypriots believe eurozone membership will lead to inflation and profiteering. …