Against the backdrop of the escalating debt crisis, Greeks face an ironic deadline Thursday — it's their last chance to convert their old drachmas into euros, something they pledged to do more than a decade ago when they joined the EU.


This file photo from June 1998 shows Bank of Greece governor Lucas Papademos showing off a new 5,000 drachma banknote. Thursday is the deadline for Greek people to turn in their old worthless drachmas for euros. (Reuters)

Greece joined the European Union's eurozone on Jan. 1, 2001. When they did so, they agreed to phase out their old currency, the drachma, in favour of the euro over time.

The drachma ceased to be legal tender on Feb. 28, 2002. Ever since, the Bank of Greece has been accepting old drachma notes and changing them into euros at a rate of 340 to 1.

But Thursday marks the 10-year deadline of that process, meaning as of close of business Thursday, the central bank will no longer accept the bills and the notes will simply be sentimental old pieces of paper.

New 'drachma' floated

Greece's economy has been hit hard by a mountain of sovereign debt in recent years.

On the heels of punishing austerity measures designed to rein in spending, the IMF and EU has already granted the country more than $200 billion US worth of bailouts aimed at keeping it afloat. But with sluggish growth, many have speculated the country can never live up to the terms of the loans it has already been granted.

One of the possible solutions gaining steam as an idea would be for Greece to exit the eurozone, and create its own, new currency.

Those new "drachmas" would almost immediately plummet in value against the euro, which would allow the country to rebuild itself internally but make anything imported from elsewhere in Europe inordinately expensive.

Exactly when that might happen isn't clear. But the proposed drachma's ancient namesake has just a day or so to live.