The value of those euro coins left as a tip at the bistro, taverna or tapas bar has fluctuated in the 17 years since they went into circulation, as with all currencies. Where the euro differs is that its ultimate worth has always been more than just monetary. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another currency that comes minted with such lofty ambition and political idealism, and with the Brexit drama skittering onwards and internal tensions tugging, this remains truer than ever.
As one of the world’s newest currencies, the euro’s decades-long gestation and protracted birth have been meticulously documented. It’s a story of meetings, negotiations, treaties and yet more meetings, its cast comprised almost exclusively of politicians and civil servants. The kind of yarn, in other words, likely to set only the pulse of an economic historian racing. Altogether more mysterious – and contested – is how the euro acquired the sign by which it’s known around the world.
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The new currency’s name was chosen in Madrid in 1995. Allegedly the suggestion of a Belgian teacher and Esperanto buff, “euro” triumphed over a string of other contenders, including the irresistibly Shakespearean “ducat”. A crucial consideration was that the name must be the same in all of Europe’s official languages, and uniformity was deemed vital for the sign that would represent it too.