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Estonia joins eurozone despite turmoil

the CNN Wire StaffBy
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Estonia joins euro area
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Estonia is the 17th nation to adopt the euro
  • The former Soviet republic's old currency is the kroon
  • Estonians have been exchanging kroons for euros since December 1
RELATED TOPICS
  • Euro Zone

(CNN) -- Estonia became the newest member of the eurozone Saturday, adopting the euro for its official currency as the clock rang in 2011.

The country's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip hailed the currency changeover as economic good sense despite the turmoil across the rest of the eurozone.

"Estonia is the poorest country in the eurozone, so we have a lot of things to do also now after the goal of reaching the eurozone has been accomplished," Ansip said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Estonian bank branches have been exchanging the old currency -- the kroon -- to euros free of charge for the past month at a conversion rate of one euro for every 15.6466 kroons. The exchange will continue until June 30 and then at more limited branches until the end of next year.

The Estonian Central Bank, however, will exchanges kroons for euros for an unlimited time period.

The impending change sent many Estonians rushing to the bank, creating long queues all month with the average wait time increasing from 6 to 20 minutes, Ola Kallemur, the bank's press officer, said. Kallemur added that almost half of Estonian people and businesses have already switched to euros.

Estonia, a former Soviet republic, is the 17th nation to adopt the euro.

"Estonia's entry means that over 330 million Europeans now carry euro notes and coins in their pockets," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "It is a strong signal of the attraction and stability that the euro brings to member states of the European Union."

"The single currency will provide a stable framework for the Estonian economy, which together with sound fiscal and macro-economic polices will create the basis for economic prosperity," said Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, said Friday.