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359 - The Euro Invasion of France (2002)

February 7, 2009, 6:58 PM


Gone are the days when crossing a border in Europe almost always meant having to change currencies. Converting guilders into Deutschmark, francs to pesetas, or whatsits into whatnots — all that came to an end on New Year’s Day 2002. The physical introduction of euro coins and banknotes marked the quick phasing-out of a dozen national European currencies (1).

The euro has homogenised a variety of coinage that was as colourful as it was impractical. Euro notes are identical throughout the entire eurozone. The coins still carry a national imprint (2) on one side, though: member states of the European monetary system are allowed to apply national logos and symbols on the coins minted in (or for) their own country; the amounts of these nationally minted coins are obviously weighted: France will produce more French coins than Belgium produces Belgian ones, and Luxembourgish euro coins will be rarer still.

Whichever national imprint these coins may have, they are perfectly valid in any other member state of the eurozone (3). This principle has given rise to a whole new discipline for statisticians to get excited about – euro-coin-analysis, thus observing the flow of money, thereby studying cross-border mobility and ultimately transnational economic ties. An early example of this discipline is this map, drawn up based on data collected in France in the crucial changeover year 2002.

The researchers asked over a million people to show them the change they had on them, counting how many coins were ‘foreign’ and where those came from (in 1992, the average French person carried 14 coins of change, incidentally). This study was published in the November 2002 issue of Population et Sociétés, the monthly newsletter of the INED (Institut national d’etudes demographiques) in Paris. This map charts the infiltration of Belgian, German and Spanish coins. The study itself was more comprehensive. Some results:

  • Between March and September of 2002, the share of foreign coins almost doubled, from 4.7% to 9.2%. Curiously, the percentage varied greatly by denomination. Only 3% of the coin with the least value (1 eurocent) were foreign in september, compared to 14% of the highest-value coin (2 euros). Taking small-value coins on an international road trip seems like too much of a hassle for most people.
  • In March 2002, 20% of the French had at least one foreign coin in their pocket, in September, it was 48%, almost 1 in 2. The infiltration was massive and quick; now, 7 years later, it must be statistically improbable for the French to not have ‘foreign’ euro coins in their porte-monnaie.
  • The influx obviously started in the border regions first. In March, almost half of those living in the area next to Germany, and more than a third of those living close to the Belgian border had foreign coins in their pockets. However, this monetary invasion was much less pronounced in the Spanish and Italian border areas (Switzerland, of course, is not in the EU, nor in the eurozone). Might this be due to the mountainous nature of these areas, much less permeable to commerce?
  • Not really. The Italians generally waited until the expiration of their own familiar lira on February 28 before adopting the euro, while Germany imposed the euro straight from the 1st of January. This explains why the infiltration of the German euros had such a head start in March as compared to the Italian invasion.
  • The favourite holiday destinations of the French – and the Mediterranean origin of many Parisians – explain the occurrence of Italian and Spanish coins in Île-de-France (Paris and environs, France’s heavily populated hub).
  • The summer holidays of tourists to France help explain the spread of German euro coins in the Atlantic coast region, and Dutch and Belgian coins in the South-West.
  • Obviously, proximity to the border is inducive to possession of foreign euro coins. In June 2002, inhabitants of border departments were twice as likely to have foreign denominations among their euro coins (56% to 30%).
  • In the French border regions, persons without higher education are more likely to own foreign euro coins than those with one (63% as opposed to 45%). This situation is reversed in non-border regions (27% and 36% respectively). Why? The explanation sounds plausible, but only because French is so sonorous: Le brassage des euros montre bien que les contacts avec l’étranger, de façon directe ou indirecte via des réseaux, sont plutôt le fait des élites sociales dans les régions éloignées des frontières tandis qu’ils concernent l’ensemble de la population, et plus spécialement les catégories populaires, dans les régions frontalières.

Many thanks to Jean-Michel Muyl for alerting me to this map, found here on the aforementioned INED website. Mr Muyl, one of those Frenchmen that doesn’t need prompting from statisticians to cogitate upon the miracle of European monetary integration, says that “still now, it’s an amazement to me to have in my pocket a Dante Alighieri, an Juan Carlos, or an Athena’s owl,” referring to Italian, Spanish and Greek euro-coins.

(1) The euro, as an element of the European Union’s goal of an “ever closer union” is a political as well as an economic instrument. It is intended as the single currency of the EU — but three of the 15 EU member states at the time opted out of the system: the UK, Denmark and Sweden. The countries that did introduce the euro on 01-01-2002 were: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The euro started out as a weighted average of these 12 countries’ currencies. ‘Euroland’ now consists of 16 of the 27 current EU member states, plus three non-EU-states that have adopted the euro with EU permission (Monaco, the Vatican and San Marino) and three more that have done so without permission (Montenegro, Andorra and Kosovo). Eventual introduction of the euro – when the right fiscal, budgetary and economic conditions are met – was a prerequisite for the accession of the newest, eastern EU member states.

(2) the national imprint obviously can only made by countries officially in the eurozone, including the Vatican (the relatively small number of Vatican coins makes these rather sought after collectors’ items) but not Montenegro, Andorra and Kosovo.

(3) Unlike for example Scottish banknotes, which may be refused in the rest of the UK.


359 - The Euro Invasion of ...

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