The president of the European Central Bank announced Thursday he will be stepping down in 2003, three years before his term is completed.

Wim Duisenberg will be turning 68 on June 9, 2003, the day he has decided to leave his position, said ECB spokeswoman Regina Schueller.

"In view of his age, he did not want to serve the full eight-year term as the president of the ECB," Schueller said.

Duisenberg informed the governing bodies of the ECB -- the European equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve -- of his decision in writing on Wednesday, Schueller said. The ECB was widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged as its governing council meets Thursday in the city where the continent's single currency was conceived.

Schueller said Duisenberg told officials when he took office in 1998 that he would not likely serve his entire term. There is not yet any speculation about who may take Duisenberg's place, Schueller said.

Duisenberg, a former Dutch finance minister and former head of the Dutch central bank, got the job after European officials deadlocked in 1998. There was speculation that Duisenberg got the job after France and Germany, the two biggest countries in the 12-member euro zone, couldn't agree on a candidate.

The announcement comes in the wake of the successful introduction of the euro notes and coins, a monumental logistical job that was accomplished without major problems in the first weeks after Jan. 1.