Vive La Revolution?
Volume 38, Number 12, December 2001
The time is almost upon us, or at least 12 of our “neighbour states” in Europe, the time for the biggest change in a monetary system since decimalisation in the UK and one that dwarves that event utterly. I write, of course, about the long awaited introduction of the Euro coins into the participating countries of the Euro Zone on January 1 2002 (notes having been introduced a month or so earlier). On that date some 300 million people will be able to spend the new currency and over the succeeding weeks they will see their own familiar coins and notes phased out until, by the end of February, the Euro will be their only legal tender. Whatever personal views are taken regarding this new currency one thing cannot be doubted – that this is a phenomenally ambitious experiment that, should it come off, will make an entirely new currency one of the strongest in the world, but if it should fail then economic turmoil both in Europe and far further afield will be inevitable. As with any such bold and dramatic change there are both supporters and fierce critics with the former stating that trade and commerce will become so much easier whilst the latter simply see this step as one more on the road to full integration and the absolute loss of sovereignty. In the UK too there are those both for and against and both camps will be watching the events of January 1 and subsequent weeks with much interest knowing that any success or failure of the this huge undertaking will have direct bearing on whether or not we reject Sterling and join the Euro zone once and for all. It is perhaps inevitable that in the early months, if not years, there will be teething troubles for the new monetary system – for example it is easy to see how prices could rise in certain countries – the Euro is currently worth 40.33 Belgian francs and it seems more likely that shopkeepers will simply round that figure up rather than fiddle around with small change so items costing 40Bfr before January 1 will suddenly go up that little bit overnight, multiply that over thousands of francs worth of transactions and it seems certain that inflation will follow. It is also easy to see how citizens of certain countries, whose economies aren’t as strong as their neighbouring states, would find themselves somewhat put out to discover that their weekly wages no longer compared quite so favourably with their fellow workers across the border, a fact they never noticed when fluctuating exchange rates hid the truth. Similarly it is likely that for some at least confusion will reign - new notes and coins will not be instantly recognisable and will take some time to get used to inevitably leading to longer queues, jammed vending machines, arguments between customers and shopkeepers etc etc. Forgers too seem set to have a field day with nobody having enough knowledge of the new currency, at least initially, to be able to tell real from fake. This will all change in time of course but whether or not it changes before the new notes and coins are viewed with too much suspicion, if not out and out hostility remains to be seen. Of course at this stage apart from for our readers in Europe this does not affect us at all and we as numismatists will not be particularly interested in the pros and cons of the new system; what we are interested in though is the coins themselves, their designs, their dimensions, whether there will be commemoratives etc. We will of course keep close track of these, and other developments in COIN NEWS and, following on from the article on the background to the Euro last month, in this month’s magazine we take a closer, in depth, look at the coins that will soon become so familiar across the majority of the continent. Whatever we as individuals think of this undertaking, as numismatists we cannot fail to be excited by what has to be the most ambitious programme of re-coinage since the time of Roman Empire, a programme that promises to hold our interest well beyond January 1 2002 – however it pans out.
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