Newspaper article International New York Times

France Again Meets Its Waterloo, This Time on a Coin

Newspaper article International New York Times

France Again Meets Its Waterloo, This Time on a Coin

Article excerpt

The Belgians were less victors over Napoleon than hosts to the defeat that ended his ambitions, but they have minted a new 2.5- euro coin to celebrate the day.

Call it the new Battle of Waterloo.

That is in any case what the French news media declared it after their neighbor Belgium decided in March to mint a new 2-euro coin to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's ignominious defeat by forces led by Britain and Prussia on territory now outside Brussels.

Initially, the Belgians retreated, but in a style perhaps befitting a battle that ended French hegemony in Europe, Paris seems to have been outflanked once again.

Belgium this week decided to circumvent French resistance by invoking a European Union rule that allows eurozone countries to issue euro coins of their choice if they are in an irregular denomination.

Enter the EUR 2.50 coin. Belgium has now begun minting 70,000 of them, showing a monument of a lion that sits atop a cone-shaped hill on the site of France's humiliation, as well as lines indicating where troops were positioned.

Johan Van Overtveldt, the Belgian finance minister, insisted on Monday that the new coins were not meant to provoke Gallic anger.

"The goal is not to revive old quarrels in a modern Europe -- and there are more important things to sort out," he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "But there's been no battle in recent history as important as Waterloo, or indeed one that captures the imagination in the same way."

There is no doubt that the European Union has bigger battles to fight at the moment. But in its small way, the dust-up has signaled the challenges facing European integration, and the limits of Europe's open borders at overcoming old-style nationalist impulses.

Tensions among the 19 countries that use the euro have mounted weekly as Greece teeters perilously close to defaulting on its debt - - much of it owed to its European Union partners -- and as a backlash against German-style austerity shows little sign of abating.

But history has its own currency in Europe, which even a common currency has yet to overcome. In March, officials in Paris wrote a letter to the European authorities insisting that the Battle of Waterloo, which took place on June 18, 1815, and altered the shape of European history, had deep and damaging resonance in the collective French consciousness. …

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