The change will affect how we see ourselves
In just a few hours the 300 million citizens of the euro area will be able to spend the new euro banknotes and coins for the very first time.
In just a few weeks more the deutschmark, the Greek drachma, the Spanish peseta, the French franc, the Italian lira and all the other currencies of the euro area countries will be withdrawn from circulation.
The euro banknotes and coins which replace them will be legal tender throughout the whole euro area, which encompasses 12 countries and stretches from Lapland to Crete.
This is a historic moment. The "old" banknotes and coins have not just been units of value or a means of exchange. For all of us, they have represented a part of our lives, our history, our cultures and our values. They have been symbols of national identity, and have also helped to forge that identity.
Within national boundaries, they have strengthened the sense of belonging to a single community. Over the years they have borne the consequences - with varying fortune - of the economic policies and the political and social events of the respective countries. These banknotes and coins have become very familiar to us.
It will certainly take some time before people get used to counting in euro, to assessing the relative value of goods in euro, and to paying and receiving amounts of money in euro.
For quite some time many people will certainly keep a mental price list in their former national currency.
This very natural fact might in itself cause some small inconveniences in the very first weeks of the new year. But they will be nothing more than just that, and they will be easily overcome with a little attention and patience.
Replacing the national banknotes and coins with the new euro cash is not merely a technical act that will affect us only on a practical level. It will also influence the way we perceive ourselves within a community, the way we regard our history and the way we relate to our neighbours and our territory.
It will deeply affect the way we see ourselves as Europeans, thereby fostering the process of integration and contributing to the achievement of lasting peace and prosperity throughout Europe.
The European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks (NCBs) of the euro area have done everything in their power to ensure the success of this extraordinary and historic project.
The introduction of the euro banknotes and coins is an important step on the very long road that has been travelled, not always at the same speed, since the end of the second World War and the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community 50 years ago.
The euro is, in my view, the most visible sign for all of us of how far the process of European integration has progressed, and one that will be constantly tangible for all the citizens of the 12 countries of the euro area.
With time, this symbol of European integration will develop its own history, shaped and defined by every single citizen of the euro area.
As president of the ECB I feel greatly honoured to have had the chance to contribute to this process.
The ECB, together with the NCBs of the euro area, has been entrusted by the EU member-states with a mandate to maintain price stability in the euro area, a mandate to which we are fully committed.
Many things have been achieved in these past few years. The euro was introduced as the single currency of the euro area on January 1st, 1999, although not yet in the form of banknotes and coins, and it has brought about increased stability, confidence and predictability in all our economies, shielding them in an unprecedented way against the external shocks that we experienced in the past.
When we celebrated the birth of the euro three years ago, I was aware of all the benefits it would bring, some of them at once, others over the course of time. But I was also aware that some of these advantages would not be evident to many citizens of the euro area until the banknotes and coins were put into circulation.
In a few hours, this three-year gap between the introduction of the euro and the arrival of the banknotes and coins will be closed. The new banknotes, with the signature of the President of the ECB and the initials of the ECB in the five linguistic variants covering the 11 official languages of the European Community, will become part of our everyday life. .
The ECB and the NCBs of the euro area, together with all the governments and European institutions involved, as well as the private players, have worked hard for years to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible.
I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve together.