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2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the euro, and support for the single currency among euro area citizens reached an all-time high of 76% in the November Eurobarometer poll. Euro area economic growth moderated further in 2019, to 1.2% from 1.9% in the previous year. The continued expansion was supported by

favourable financing conditions, further employment gains and the mildly expansionary fiscal stance, although global trade-related uncertainty weighed most notably on manufacturing and investment.

Euro area labour markets continued to improve in 2019. The unemployment rate declined further to 7.6%, and wage growth remained robust, around its long-run average. Headline inflation in the euro area stood at 1.2% on average in 2019, down from 1.8% in 2018. This decline reflected lower contributions from the two more volatile components, energy and food. Excluding these two components, inflation averaged 1.0% in 2019, the same as in the two previous years.

Against that background, the ECB's Governing Council undertook further monetary accommodation in 2019 over three successive rounds. This included a new series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations, an extension of our forward guidance, a reduction in our deposit facility rate and the resumption of our asset purchase programme. By the end of 2019 there were some initial signs of a stabilisation of growth dynamics and a mild increase in underlying inflation.

As part of our policy assessment process, the Governing Council takes into consideration the impact of any potential side effects of our policy. In that vein, a two-tier system for reserve remuneration was introduced, which exempts a fraction of banks' excess cash reserves from the negative deposit facility rate, in order to safeguard the bank-based transmission of monetary policy.

Structurally low profitability remains a challenge for euro area banks, although the sector is adequately capitalised, with a 14.2% Common Equity Tier 1 ratio. During 2019 strong risk-taking in financial and real estate markets continued to fuel the build-up of asset price vulnerabilities, while risks continued to increase in the growing non-bank financial sector. Euro area countries, in consultation with the ECB, implemented a number of macroprudential measures to mitigate and build up resilience to systemic risks.

The Eurosystem continued its efforts to ensure the smooth operation of payment systems. This included preparations for the replacement of TARGET2 with a new, state-of-the-art real-time gross settlement system and the adoption of a new retail payments strategy. The strategy supports the development of a market-led pan-European solution for point-of-interaction payments, to complement the successful Single European Payments Area.

Publication of a new overnight reference rate, the €STR (euro short-term rate), began on 2 October, with the aim of replacing the current reference rate, EONIA, by January 2022. The daily production of the €STR has worked well and the methodology has proved reliable.

The ECB continues to study carefully the impact of climate change on the outlook for price stability and the financial system. This includes understanding the carbon intensity of bank lending portfolios and developing an analytical framework for carrying out a pilot climate risk stress-test analysis for the euro area banking sector. The ECB contributes to the efforts against climate change through its own investment decisions and environmental activities. We reduced carbon emissions and energy consumption per workplace by 74% and 54% respectively between 2008 and 2018.

2019 brought a renewed focus on engaging with a broader audience than financial markets and experts, and on listening more attentively to people's concerns. Initiatives included the #EUROat20 competition, a new "ECB explains" video series and a monthly podcast.