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Estonia makes New Year euro switch

The Baltic state of Estonia is preparing to celebrate the New Year by becoming the first former Soviet republic to adopt the euro.

The changeover will officially start at midnight on January 1, marking the beginning of the end of the Estonian kroon.

The switch comes at a time of crisis with Europe's common currency, after two members - Greece and Ireland - required emergency bail-outs to prevent their economies from slipping into insolvency.

This is why many feel that the inclusion of Estonia, whose 19 billion dollar (£12 billion) economy is dwarfed by the euro's total annual output of approximately 12.5 trillion dollars (£8 trillion), holds symbolic importance.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the country of 1.3 million to the eurozone.

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

Estonia still has painful structural reforms to implement before reaching western European living standards. The country, which achieved independence in 1991, will be the 17th and poorest member of the eurozone.

Celebrations will include fireworks and a gala concert featuring the music of George Gershwin, while Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was due to make one of the first bank-machine withdrawals in euros just after midnight.

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