BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The euro's reputation may have taken a hit during the three-year-long euro crisis but the European single currency remains popular with counterfeiters.
The number of counterfeit euro coins removed from circulation increased by 17 percent to 184,000 in 2012, with a face value of at least 290,000 euros, the European Commission said in a statement on Monday.
About 531,000 banknotes were taken out of circulation last year, according to the European Central Bank, which did not give a face value for the notes.
Around 80 percent of the fraudulent coins by value were 2-euro pieces while 20 and 50-euro notes are most commonly forged.
Last week, the Commission proposed increasing sanctions against counterfeiters by introducing a minimum six-month jail sentence in serious cases.
The new penalties would be implemented across the European Union to remedy the varying counterfeit policies that currently exist in member states.
"A currency shared by 17 countries and 330 million people is an attractive target for criminals." said Algirdas Semeta, the commissioner in charge of fighting fraud. "So we must make sure that crime doesn't pay."
The Commission already has some measures in place to combat euro counterfeiting, including law enforcement, legislation and analysis techniques. The latest proposal would introduce new investigative tools that member states could use to prevent and track counterfeit criminals.
Some 929 billion euros in notes and coins circulate worldwide.
Reporting By Teddy Nykiel; Editing by Adrian Croft