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Friday, January 2, 2015

Lithuania Joins Neighbors, Adopts Euro

People celebrate the New Year in Vilnius, on January 1, 2015. Lithuania switched over to the euro on January 1st, becoming the last Baltic nation to adopt Europe's single currency in a bid to boost stability despite fears of inflation and Eurozone debt woes. (Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)

People celebrate the New Year in Vilnius, on January 1, 2015. Lithuania switched over to the euro on January 1st, becoming the last Baltic nation to adopt Europe’s single currency in a bid to boost stability despite fears of inflation and Eurozone debt woes. (Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)

Lithuania became the 19th member of the Eurozone yesterday, making the entire Baltic region users of the single European currency.

The country has been part of the European Union since 2004 but was unable to meet criteria for adopting the Euro until now.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd why this is an important step for Lithuania and why the move will be both a political and economic boon for the country.

The former Lithuanian currency — the litas — had been pegged to the Euro since 2002. Linkevicius says the adoption of the Euro was just “a formality.”

Lithuania wanted to adopt the Euro in 2007 — but the country’s economy was severely crippled by the financial crisis, and it was unable to meet the terms necessary to join the European currency.

Lithuania implemented a series of austerity measures including severe cuts in public salaries and pensions to prop up the economy.

Linkevicius says the hardest part for Lithuanians in adopting the new currency is “psychological.” The litas was adopted after Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

“We are proud of our national currency,” Linkevicius said. “But pragmatically speaking … We need to fix it, to make less obstacles for business, also for customers, for people. And they will realize that.”

Linkevicius says adopting the Euro is not just a financial issue but a “geopolitical project.”

“Being part of this monetary union is one more logical step to complete European integration and implicitly — in security terms — it looks like a security guarantee for us,” Linkevicius said referring to Russia. “We can provoke them by being weak, by being inconsistent. By being united, we’ll be stronger.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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