France wins Waterloo coin battle as Belgium drops design

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The two euro coinImage source, European Council

Belgium has pulled a design for a €2 coin commemorating the Battle of Waterloo, heading off a potential spat with its French neighbour.

France objected to the design showing the Lion Hill memorial, which marks the June 1815 battle near Brussels.

The French government said it contained a "negative symbol" for some Europeans.

Belgium's finance ministry said that 175,000 coins had already been minted with the new design and would not now be brought into circulation.

Napoleon's dream of a united Europe under French rule finally came to an end at Waterloo, where he was defeated by an allied force commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Prussia's Field Marshal Bluecher.

A letter of objection to the coin submitted by France argued that the battle was an event with particular resonance in the European collective memory and went beyond being merely an instance of military conflict.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A two-cornered hat worn by Napoleon at Waterloo will go on display at a museum there this month

The €2 (£1.4; $2.1) coins could prompt an unfavourable reaction in France, the letter warned, at a time when eurozone governments were trying to strengthen unity and co-operation.

One diplomat expressed surprise that two centuries after the French defeat a proposal for "some loose change with an image of a hill on it can cause such a fuss in Paris", the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels reports.

A source at the Royal Mint told the BBC: "The Battle of Waterloo ended 200 years ago, but now they are starting it all over again."

Manuela Wintermans of the National Union of Public Services told Belgian TV the Royal Mint had given in to the French protest.

She complained it would be irresponsible to halt distribution of the coins when so many had been minted.

But Belgian authorities said that after the French objection they would not have been able to secure the support of sufficient eurozone member states for the coin under the system of qualified majority voting.

And Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said he was a little surprised by the fuss, pointing out that Europe had plenty of other challenges "without wasting time and energy on this".

The controversial design will now be used as a purely commemorative coin but will not be legal tender.

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