Amid the fireworks and mulled wine on New Year’s Eve, many people headed for a somewhat unusual destination on the first day of 2002: their bank’s ATM. They wanted to be among the first to get their hands on the new euro banknotes. In the freezing cold, total strangers proudly pointed to the new symbol of European unity – the euro. It became a constant companion on 1 January 2002, and anyone travelling today across the many borders between the 19 euro countries can sit back and relax, remembering a time when they would start to panic as they were about to cross the border: “Did we change enough money?”
Travelling around Europe and being able to pay in most countries with euros is the most obvious advantage of the common currency. Not only because there are no more annoying exchange fees or laborious calculations (“… one mark is seven point something schillings…”), but also because the euro created price transparency for consumers. People on holiday were hit hard by exchange rate fluctuations, as were companies in their daily business. This risk was now gone. Appreciations and depreciations create uncertainty. And the more extreme they are, the greater the confusion they cause.
The advantages of a common European currency are of course chiefly economic in nature – after all, we’re talking about money. Studies show that the euro member states have all profited and continue to profit from the euro in many ways. For companies, the common currency has simplified exports and helped secure jobs. The euro countries have increased trade with one another, linked factories and sales rooms across borders, and improved mutual understanding among people in Europe.
No one is claiming that the first 15 years of the euro have been perfect. There is still no well-coordinated fiscal policy between the governments of euro countries, and the necessary budgetary discipline is still lacking in many places. But who can say what kind of chaos we would have experienced in Europe during the 2008/09 financial crisis if the countries had been solely concerned with protecting their own interests through their national currencies?
The euro is more than just economics – it is also emotion. Not for those who are still lamenting that everything was better in the “good old days” of the mark, the franc and the lira. But for all those who want to see Europe move forward on a common path, the single currency is a beacon of hope and reason. The days of nation states with their national currencies and national egoisms should be gone forever.
338,6 million people
in the 19 Euro states pay with the common currency.