Mabel Berezin


On the Two Faces of the Euro Coins

Cover Interview of January 10, 2012

After European leaders agreed to create the European Monetary Union (EMU) in the late 1990s, the European Council in Brussels established a competition among graphic artists to design the new currency.  The competition protocol requested that euro bills have non-specific images that might suggest any venue that appeared generically European.  The coins were the exception.  One side of the coins would have the denomination; the other side would have an easily recognizable national symbol.

The design schizophrenia built into the euro coins is manifest in the political dimensions of the European sovereign debt crisis.  The struggle between national interest and plans to conserve the EMU plagues ongoing attempts to adjudicate the full blown crisis that emerged in 2010 when Greece began to head towards default.

In this climate of economic volatility, European right nationalist parties and their ideas have gained increased political traction and notable electoral successes.  Even in Sweden, a right populist party, the Swedish Democrats, received 5.7% of the vote making it eligible for a seat in the Congress.  In the April 2011 Finnish legislative elections, the right nationalist True Finn Party came in third place and achieved the same percentage of votes as the Finnish Social Democrats.  A resistance to bailing out defaulting EMU members and a general antipathy to Europe unites diverse right parties. The economic events that constitute the crisis have made it legitimate for nationalist politicians to argue that Europe is a dangerous economic and political project.  Exit from the eurozone is the cornerstone of French National Front leader, Marine Le Pen’s current campaign for the presidency.

During this period, nationalist rhetoric and policy proposals have become part of center right, and in some instances left, political discourse.  In October 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of the youth members of the Christian Democratic Union party that Germany’s attempt to build a multicultural society had “failed, utterly failed.”