To be franc, after 10 years the euro has failed to make its mark
January 2, 2012
Good memories are reserved for the old currencies. Photo: Reuters
WHEN the euro was introduced just after midnight on January 1, 2002, celebratory fireworks exploded above the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. The Pont Neuf in Paris was lit up in European Union blue, with 12 rays of light to symbolise the 12 nations circulating the euro.
Ten years later, the word ''euro'' in a headline is usually paired with the word ''crisis''. Policymakers appear to be staying as quiet as possible, as if hoping not to upset the brief calm that has come with the holiday season after European central bankers injected nearly $US640 billion ($A627 billion) into the system last month.
In Brussels, there will be neither a ceremony nor a news conference to mark the occasion and other countries are doing the minimum: preparing to circulate a €2 commemorative coin for the anniversary.
By many measures, the euro has been a success, replacing the German mark as the world's second-largest reserve currency. Inflation has been kept in check, the European Central Bank's primary objective.
But the euro has none of the affection or patriotism that, say, the dollar evokes in the US, no nickname that compares with the greenback. Good memories are reserved for the old currencies.
Michel Prieur, a numismatist in Paris and a member of the collectors' group the Friends of the Euro, said if policymakers were trying to create warm feelings towards their currency, they had gone about it all wrong, with sterile architectural designs on the bills.
Coins usually had national designs on the back, but the bills had ''bridges that come from nowhere and that lead nowhere'' and ''windows that open onto nothing'', he said.
Reinhold Gerstetter, a graphic designer who worked for Germany's Federal Printing Office at the time, sat in on the preliminary discussions at the European Central Bank. In order not to snub any individual country, ''none of the countries should be recognisable'' in the designs, he told the German news site Spiegel Online last week.
''Everything completely neutral,'' he said.
''These imbeciles replaced national identity with nothing,'' Mr Prieur said. ''What they should have done was choose some European geniuses.''
He suggested Leonardo da Vinci or Mozart - both of whom lived before the founding of what would be considered their modern European nations of origin, Italy and Austria.
''You're not going to be able to make a currency that will enter into people's hearts and spirits if you don't make it about an identity,'' Mr Prieur said. ''The history of the franc is a million times more interesting.''
For Germans, the mark symbolised the recovery - rebirth, even - of the country's economy after World War II.
The head of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, said last month that marks valued at more than $US8 billion were still in circulation a decade later. Some were in scrapbooks as souvenirs, but others were hoarded out of fear.
Tong Boitin, an immigrant from China in Berlin, held on to 200 marks to be on the safe side. ''In those days, the Deutsche mark was so strong, and the euro came, and I thought, 'This won't work','' she said. Last week, she exchanged her marks for euros at roughly two to one.
''I can hand them in now,'' Ms Boitin said. ''The problems with the euro are a little exaggerated, and ultimately we have to find a solution. The euro has to succeed.''