Pocketbook Integration

The beginning of the year coming up, 2012, offers a rather bittersweet anniversary. Do you remember? It was from midnight on 1 January 2002, literally as fireworks still lit up urban skies, that euro banknotes first issued from ATM machines inside the 12 original Eurozone members, and that banks and merchants first returned eurocoins in change, all of those with a national emblem reflecting where they had been minted on one side.

No prize for guessing why any commemoration of this 10-year milestone is lacking so far in the press – everywhere I look, really. For 2012 promises to be a difficult year for European national finances, and therefore for the euro; to many, an exit from the Eurozone of one or several states is likely, and from that possibly even the common currency’s “collapse” (although I think that, no matter what, there will be a rump core of states – Germany, Netherlands, Finland, etc. – still using it for quite a while).

But enough of this depressing talk! We have all read and heard quite enough of it, at least before the onset of the holiday season (when the bureaucrats and bank officials in charge left their desks for a while).* Let’s rather follow the Luxembourg lead and consider the euro from a different perspective:

http://t.co/eNBpc2Z7 Dix ans de l’euro Pas vraiment de mixité dans les porte-monnaie http://t.co/b3mtHfyx


news luxembourg

That perspective is “integration,” always a hot European topic: to what degree are the various European peoples mixing with each other and getting along while they do so? Except that here, in this essential piece from the French-language Luxembourg paper L’essentiel (no byline), the subject is rather the degree to which all the various eurocoins are mixing with each other in people’s pockets. The lede:

Ten years after the arrival of the euro, the coins which sport a national symbol on one face are not yet totally mixed in European wallets.

Piffle, you say? Actually, I find the question interesting, if only from a personal perspective. Given my general location in the Netherlands, about as far from a national border as one can be in this small country, it’s no surprise that Dutch pieces bearing a spiffy, stylized silhouette of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix dominated from the start, although German ones (with that ol’ imperial eagle) were on the scene immediately, with the French and Belgian not far behind. For a long time even the rather more artistic and varied Italian coins were a rarity, to be laid aside as soon as they were encountered – as were the Irish pieces, and certainly the Luxembourg ones (which, if understandably rare in those early days and beyond, basically also do little more than copy the formats used on Dutch eurocoins). None of that is true anymore now in 2011, in the euro’s twilight, not even for Luxembourg coins; rather, I occasionally examine my change in the hope of spotting something from Slovakia, say, or Estonia, but so far in vain. (Although the chosen design for every coin-denomination of the latter is simply its geographical shape, which suggests lack of suitable cultural icons and/or imagination and/or time Estonian designers had to work with before the official coin-design was due for submission. In fact, no other Eurozone country resorts to the creative expedient using its geography for the design!)

But back to the L’essential article: Turns out that, in fact and in its first words after the lede, “There are no official statistics determining the degree of numismatic mingling within the 17 countries of the Zone and the three micro-states tied to it, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican.” What, no story then? Of course not: these days it’s a simple thing for any newspaper to dial up an “expert” on almost anything at short notice and, sure enough, here we have two of them, one each for the biggest EU economies, natch:

  • Germany: Prof. Dietrich Stoyan, retired from the University of Freiberg, states that only 40% of the coinage in German pockets is made up of pieces with something other than German markings. According to his calculations, the level this is supposed to be is 67% – rather far away, thus, and he doesn’t expect this to come about until sometime around 2030 (hah!). Guess what? The second most-common coin in German pockets, again according to the professor, is not the French, but the Spanish! Why? Because so many Germans go on vacation there!
  • France: Here we depend upon a certain Prof. Claude Grasland of the University of Paris 7 and France [sic] GuĂ©rin-Pace, a female researcher at the National Institute for Demographic Studies (French abbreviation: Ined). “Foreign” eurocoins make up only 33% of the metal found in French pockets. Second-most? It’s a tie between German and Spain – because, you see, it’s well-known how France functions as the “land of passage” between N and S Europe. And what about those more-obscure pieces, i.e. from Monaco, San Mareno, the Vatican. Oh, you’ll never encounter these, say the researchers: People divert them to their private collections as soon as they see them! Sounds right to me.

Presumably analogous experts could have been found for information on the coin circulation of other interesting countries – I’d now particularly like to hear about Spain, and also confirm my hunch that the “foreign” coinage in Luxembourg pockets must surely be in excess of 90% – but the article could only go on for so long, so tough luck. For that matter – and although it may be a little-known fact – euro banknotes can also be identified as to where they were printed, via easy-to-detect letter codes in the serial numbers. But I guess no one really wants to start delving into the national-mixing of those!

*BTW if you do want to stay serious and keep your attention on the Eurozone’s troubles, then I offer you the following instead, from the same Luxembourg newspaper L’essentiel, featuring Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker lambasting those countries that were “lax” with their budgets as responsible for the entire crisis, but at the same time expressing confidence that the common currency is not in any real danger:

http://t.co/eNBpc2Z7 Crise de la dette Juncker critique les pays trop laxistes http://t.co/ncuSa5Bc


news luxembourg

So far, so dubious, then. But there is also an interesting mention at the beginning of the piece of how German sporting-goods company Adidas has stated a willingness to go back to accepting local (i.e. pre-euro) currency, if need be.

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