LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Lithuania will at the beginning of the next year become the 19th member of the euro zone after receiving the go-ahead from EU finance ministers on Friday, leaving only nine EU countries outside of the single currency club.
The widely expected green light follows a recommendation by the European Commission earlier this month that the Baltic republic join the single currency after it met all the criteria - a stable exchange rate, low inflation and interest rates and public debt and deficit within EU limits.
"Today is a very important day for Lithuania," the country's Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius said when arriving at the meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg.
"This is not the end of the path for Lithuania but just the beginning. Lithuania will try to be a responsible member of the euro zone and we understand we will face challenges, we will carry responsibilities as a member of the club and not only use the benefits."
Lithuania, for the time being, is the last country to join the bloc as no other EU country plans to join any time soon, citing need for the bloc to deal with legacy of the crisis and structural challenges denting growth and job creation.
The euro accession is now due to be rubber-stamped first by EU leaders when they meet in Brussels next week and then by the European Parliament. Lithuania will probably get the final go-ahead on July 23, a senior euro zone official said on Monday.
"This is a well-deserved achievement for Lithuania, after an impressive convergence process and remarkable re-emergence from the financial crisis," the head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem said late on Thursday.
The European Commission is expected to propose an exchange rate at which the Lithuanian currency will be converted into the euro on July 1.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Martin Santa)