If sometimes you find euros in your wallet that don't look familiar, it may be because they are commemorative coins. Euro countries have been issuing such coins since 2004, and they are often dedicated to anniversaries of historical events, famous personalities or heritage sites.
Euro coins are a good example of combining European unity and diversity. When deciding on their look, the Council agreed that they would have a common design on one side, and distinctive national symbols on the other. It was a way to ensure enough consistency while accommodating national traditions.
Unlike banknotes, which are the competence of the European Central Bank, euro coins are still a national competence. And through the years, the designs on the national side have evolved - when the Head of State changes, for instance. Such was the case in Belgium, where the coins have shown King Philippe since 2014, and Spain, which introduced the portrait of King Felipe VI in 2015.
Together with these national specificities, since 2004 countries can also issue commemorative series, which are legal tender and add to the existing variety of euros. Each country may issue two commemorative coins per year, which must have the same features and properties as normal €2 coins, but with a different national side.
First place for the Athens Olympics
The very first commemorative coin was issued by Greece in 2004. It was dedicated to the Olympic Games in Athens that year, and 50 million were minted. Later, in 2010, Greece would go on to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon with another new coin design.
The list of commemorative coins is becoming quite long, and includes the Atomium, 25 years of German unity and the 400th anniversary of the first edition of Don Quixote. There are also numerous royal anniversaries in countries with monarchies, many historical events and a lot of famous personalities: Botticcelli, Columbus, Plato, Abbé Pierre, Sibelius, Dante and Princess Grace of Monaco, to name just a few.
Some countries like France (2008), Belgium (2010) and Portugal (2007) have commemorated their EU Presidencies, as well as their Capitals of Culture. In 2008, several countries celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There are series too, like the one Germany dedicated to its Länder since 2006, or the Spanish one featuring UNESCO sites, inaugurated in 2010 with Cordoba's historical centre. Even animals have been featured, such as the endangered Black Stork in Latvia (2015).
Only the €2 denomination can be used for commemorative coins. It was chosen as the most appropriate since it is larger, and its bimetallic nature and technical properties offer adequate protection against counterfeiting.
Among the latest events commemorated in 2017, we find the European Capital of Culture Paphos, the centenary of Estonia's independence, the bicentenaries of the universities of Ghent and Liège and the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, celebrated on Vatican coins.
In fact, Vatican City is one of five countries to have issued commemorative coins every single year since 2004. The others are another small non-EU country, San Marino, and three Member States: Luxembourg, Finland and Italy.
EU-wide commemorative coins
Exceptionally, countries are allowed to issue a third commemorative coin in the same year, if it is part of an EU-wide joint commemoration. The first time this happened was in 2007, for the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
So far, only three other commemorative coins have been issued jointly by euro countries. In 2009, the 10th anniversary of the Economic and Monetary Union was celebrated, while in 2012 a series commemorated 10 years of the euro. The latest one came out in 2015, for the 30th birthday of the EU flag.
Countries must inform the Commission in advance about the commemorative coins they are planning to issue, and the information is published in the Official Journal of the EU. The European Central Bank approves the maximum volume of coins that the individual country may issue.
Limiting the number of coins is needed in order to avoid the commemorative euros crowding out normal €2 coins. At the same time, the volume shouldn't be too small either, or the scarcity will turn these pieces into collector's items rather than circulation coins.
In fact, commemorative coins are quite different from collectable coins, as the latter are not intended for circulation and must be easily distinguishable. Typically, these are produced in precious metals and it is the national mints which decide on their design. Therefore, they can be totally different from the euros used in daily life, and even reproduce historical currencies no longer in use.
- Publication date
- 12 March 2018