Coin News

Volume 52, Number 8, August 2015

Honouring an empress

Volume 52, Number 8, August 2015

EURO SCEPTIC BY the time you read this the world will know whether the Greek Government have succeeded in their aims to renegotiate the terms of their bailout or whether their creditors have stood firm, leaving Greece in essence bankrupt and on the verge of leaving the Euro. If the former has happened (and many are saying it’s all posturing and politicking and 11th hour deals always seem to be miraculously sorted out with both sides claiming victory) then we sit back and wonder if this really is the end of it or whether we will be treated to similar scenes in six months’ time, if not with Greece then maybe with another country. If the posturing and politicking comes to nought and the Greeks are told there’s no more money then what happens next? Well a Greek exit (that horribly termed Grexit) from the Euro would probably mean that other countries (Spain? Portugal?) would look to follow suit, take control of their own economic destiny with a currency they could devalue when necessary and thus the decade and a half experiment of the single European currency would begin to crumble and, ultimately fall. To be honest I’ve been somewhat sceptical about the Euro from the start. I understood why it was a good idea— after all, anyone who travelled across Europe pre-1999 will know the inconvenience of having to take multiple currencies with you for those times when a credit card just wouldn’t do (road tolls spring to mind immediately)—but you only have to look at the history of coinage to realise that whilst something seems like a good idea, that doesn’t mean everyone likes it. The world of coins is littered with the relics of “universal currency”, coins accepted across the globe by merchants and traders. Roman coins were generally accepted everywhere within the Empire, the Maria Theresa thaler was used and recognised across the world, Spanish reales were circulated widely and, in more modern times, British RAF crew have been sent into combat with sovereigns as part of their backup in case they got shot down—because the power and allure of gold would be recognised anywhere. These coins, and many others, were used all over simply because they had an intrinsic value: an ounce of silver was an ounce of silver whoever’s head was featured on it and whilst those coins minted by recognised governments were always more popular and thus traded more widely (simply because the person receiving it would have faith it really was silver or gold) none of them became truly universal, and none of them lasted. The reason for this is a simple one—national pride. No matter how many foreign pieces of silver were being used there would always be those who wouldn’t accept them, always be those who only wanted to deal in their own coins. Why? Silver is silver, it has the same intrinsic worth whether Spanish, Roman or British. If the coins weigh the same and are of the same metal then they are worth the same are they not? Well yes, but that hasn’t stopped the concept of a universal coinage faltering in the face of those who want their own money; and whilst I realise this is a hugely simplistic view I do believe that is one of the major issues with the Euro. Yes, the “single currency” is convenient, yes, it makes sense for business transactions and tourists; but deep down the problems facing the Euro go back to the very core of national identity. The Greeks don’t want to share a currency with the Germans—it might be useful if any of them were to ever go to Germany or Romania or Ireland but how many do? The average Greek or Spaniard or Italian isn’t concerned with travelling across borders in the same way as the Dutch or Belgians are. Your average olive grower on Paxos doesn’t care about being able to spend coins in Luxembourg—he sells his produce to other Greeks, let them use the Euro if they want. Listen to the rhetoric coming from the Greek Government; listen to the interviews of the “average” man and woman on the street and you will hear that deep down they want their own coins and notes back; deep down they want to be masters of their own money, they want to regain that sense of National Pride they feel has been stripped from them by the bankers of Northern Europe. And whilst some can dress it up as being an economic necessity I believe the “ordinary” Greek doesn’t care about that; all they care about is seeing their own coins back again, and with them a sense of being in charge. The idea of a currency you can use anywhere seems a sound one, but the Euro Mandarins only had to look at numismatics to realise it has been tried, and had failed, before. For better or for worse national identity is, and always has been, incredibly strong across most countries and it is that, rather than any other issues with work ethics, taxes, etc., that I think will seal the Euro’s fate. We shall see.

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