French President Nicolas Sarkozy said 2012 was a year "full of risks" but vowed that Paris's economic policy would not be dictated by the markets or the ratings agencies. "What is happening in the world announces that 2012 will be a year full of risks but also full of possibilities. Full of hope, if we know how to face the challenges. Full of dangers, if we stand still," Sarkozy said. "Emerging from the crisis, building a new model for growth, giving birth to a new Europe -- these are some of the challenges that await us," the French leader said. "A very difficult year, marked by necessary but painful measures, is ending... a very difficult year is around the corner," Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said in his New Year's message. The European Central Bank, which sets the interest rate for the entire 17-member eurozone from its Frankfurt headquarters, is to issue a new 2-euro commemorative coin from Monday but its own celebrations were decidedly muted. "Despite the challenges currently faced by Europe as well as the rest of the world, the people of the euro area can rest assured that the ECB will remain faithful to its mandate of maintaining price stability," said ECB president Mario Draghi in a commemorative video message.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said "2012 will be a determining year," adding: "We must transform obstacles into new opportunities," while Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf called for national unity at a difficult time. Economists agree that the longer-term benefits of the euro -- the world's biggest currency switch which saw 14.9 billion notes and 52 billion coins launched across 12 founding countries in a single day -- have been real and tangible, even if some helped set the stage for the current crisis.
The end of currency exchange risks and costs helped integrate European markets, boosting trade between member states, a move that helped German small business in particular. Another benefit was in cutting inflation, which has remained around 2 percent since the introduction of the single currency. But the euro's lower interest rates enabled successive Greek governments to go on a borrowing binge that resulted in the debt crisis that spread to Portugal, Ireland and now threatens all the countries in the region, despite a series of "last chance" EU summits.