The eight denominations of euro coins vary in size, weight, colour and thickness depending on their values. Unlike banknotes, which are the same in all euro-area countries, the coins have one common side and one country-specific side. Luc Luycx of the Royal Belgian Mint won a Europe-wide competition to design the common side of the coins.
The competition was organised in 1996 in all the Member States except Denmark, and in 1997 nine out of the thirty-six entries were tested in an EU-wide opinion poll. The winning series was first selected by the EU finance ministers and then confirmed by the Heads of State or Government at the Amsterdam European Council in 1997.
One euro is made up of 100 cents. Coins are minted in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euros. Like the euro banknotes, all coins – regardless of the issuing country – may be used anywhere in the euro area. This means that a shopper in Belgium, for example, could easily receive change from several euro-area countries while making a single purchase.
Milled edges make it easier for the visually impaired to recognise different coin values. The three lowest value (and smallest) coins are made of copper-covered steel. The 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins are ‘Nordic gold’ and the 1- and 2-euro coins use a sophisticated bi-metal technology which helps prevent counterfeiting.
Luc Luycx’s winning designs show three different maps of Europe, with a background made up of the twelve stars of the European Union. The map on the 1-, 2- and 5-cent coins depicts Europe in relation to the rest of the world. The map on the 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins represents the Union as a group of ‘individual’ nations. To stress unity as well, the same group of nations is integrated into a whole on the 1- and 2-euro coins.
The European Council decided, on 7 June 2005, that the common side of all the coin denominations should be updated to reflect the enlargement of the EU in 2004. The new designs have maps that represent Europe as a geographical whole. They are being introduced progressively, starting with the coins issued by the new entrants to the euro area from 2007 onwards. Some other euro-area Member States also started to apply them in 2007, and they became mandatory for all new coin production from 2008.
Each of the euro-area countries uses familiar or traditional motifs and icons for the design of the national sides of their coins. For example, Irish coins show the same harp design and lettering found on its coinage before adopting the euro, while Belgian coins bear a profile of King Albert II. Some countries have a different design for each coin denomination; others apply the same design to all. Whichever is the case, all the national sides bear a common symbol: the twelve stars of the European flag.
Member States are not allowed to change the design of their national sides, except in the case of coins which show the head of state. In that case the coin design may be changed when the head of state changes, or at 15-year intervals to reflect changes in his or her appearance. A temporary vacancy or provisional occupation of the function of head of state does not give the right to change the design of the national sides of regular euro coins, but can be reflected in a commemorative coin.
In addition to the regular coins, there are also commemorative and collector coins.
Countries may issue a commemorative 2-euro coin once a year to celebrate a subject of major national or European relevance.
Commemorative coins are legal tender throughout the euro area, and have the same features and properties as regular 2-euro coins. What makes them different is the special design on the national side. For example, Greece issued one in 2004 to celebrate the Athens Olympic Games.
Euro-area countries may decide to issue a commemorative coin jointly to celebrate a subject of the highest European relevance. In that case, all euro-area countries simultaneously issue a coin bearing the same design on the national side.
This first happened in 2007, when euro-area countries decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the EU's founding treaty. In January 2009, they issued a second commemorative coin to celebrate 10 years of Economic and Monetary Union and the creation of the euro. The design of this coin was selected by the public via an online vote.
The commemorative coins issued collectively or on the occasion of a temporary vacancy or provisional occupancy of the function of head of state are in addition to the annual commemorative coin euro-area countries are entitled to issue.
Collector coins are not intended for general circulation and their designs may not be too similar to other euro coins to avoid confusion.
The characteristics of the different types of euro coins (regular, commemorative and collector) are compared in a detailed table.
Euro-area countries are responsible for issuing the coins. The issuing body is typically the treasury in the national finance ministry, while the national mint physically produces the coins and the national central bank puts them into circulation. The denominations and technical specifications are laid down by the Council of the EU, and the European Central Bank approves each the volume and value of coins to be issued each year.
In addition to the euro-area Member States, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City are also entitled to issue limited quantities of their own euro coins through agreements with the EU.
Around 52 billion euro coins, using 250,000 tonnes of metal, were produced in preparation for the euro launch. On 31 May 2009, there were a total of 84.3 billion euro coins in circulation, worth close to € 20.7 billion. The European Commission produces a regularly updated overview of the main facts and figures on euro coins.
Coins intended for circulation (normal and commemorative coins)
Coins not intended for circulation (collector coins)
Medals and tokens
A number of EU rules have been drawn up in order to avoid the possibility that medals and tokens of a similar size and with similar properties to euro coins could be confused with actual euro coins, or even unlawfully used in their place.