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News Code: 618


Latvia to join the 17-nation eurozone from 2014

Latvia has won the approval of the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) to enter the eurozone and become the bloc's 18th member on January 1, 2014.
The commission and the ECB gave Latvia the green light for membership on Wednesday, making the country the second of the Baltic states, along with Estonia, to use the euro. 
"Latvia's desire to adopt the euro is a sign of confidence in our common currency. It is further evidence that those who predicted a disintegration of the euro were indeed behind the curve and simply wrong," said Olli Rehn, the European Union's top economic and monetary official.

"It is further evidence that those who predicted a disintegration of the euro were indeed behind the curb and simply wrong,” he noted. 

The tiny Baltic state will start using the euro -- instead of its national currency, the lat -- at the beginning of 2014 after meeting the criteria for membership, including low inflation and long-term interest rates, as well as low public debt. 
Latvia committed to join the euro in 2004 when it joined the EU. 
Latvia's Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis hailed the decision as "the next step for growth." 
European finance ministers will make the final decision on Latvia on July 9, but they are unlikely to block the country’s entry.
Latvia suffered the sharpest recession of any European country in 2009 when the economy contracted by over 17.7 percent. 
The country then underwent one of Europe's toughest austerity programs and has bounced back with the EU's fastest growth rate, hitting 5.6 percent last year. 
Many in the country of 2 million are however, skeptical of the need to join in the midst of the eurozone's debt troubles. 

Anti-euro parties won more than half of the vote in local elections in the capital Riga last weekend. 
Euro opponent Andris Orols, head of "Latvia for the Lat," vowed to ask the constitutional court to review the government's decision. 
"We are against the euro because we believe that an independent and sovereign country cannot exist without its own money which it controls," he said. 
The 17-nation eurozone is currently struggling with a crisis over huge government debts, a stubborn recession, and 12.2 percent unemployment.