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The euro’s twentieth anniversary: an uncompleted structure that is already a EU symbol

Strasbourg celebrates two decades since the adoption of the single currency in 1999 as an accounting tool which entered citizens’ wallets three years later. Today the euro is the currency of 19 EU countries, over 340 million citizens. Strengths and weaknesses of a Community-dream that strengthens the single market but that is flawed in terms of governance. The words of Draghi, Juncker, Tajani and Centeno

Euro, a blessing and a curse of continental integration. A symbol –not very poetical albeit efficient – of the single market and of the mutual rapprochement of European economies and peoples. The euro is the main currency for those same peoples – 340 million citizens in 19 Countries –that use it in everyday life, when they buy groceries, make a bank transfer, book a hotel. It’s currency of their payrolls and pensions. Eurosceptics view the euro as a sacred cow that must be abolished, the metaphor of a Europe that grows in unity, beyond national borders.

Uncompleted structure. In the ceremony marking two decades of the EU currency held at the hemicycle of the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, on Tuesday January 14, Antonio Tajani said: “Today we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of our single currency. The euro is the world’s second most important currency” and “according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, three Europeans in four are in favour of the euro.” He remarked: “The euro has made our internal market more transparent and competitive, facilitated transactions, movement, trade and tourism. During the economic crisis, thanks in part to the ECB’s quantitative easing, the common currency acted as a shield, preventing the collapse of Europe’s weakest economies.” However – he added introducing some of the many sour notes –  “the crisis highlighted the euro’s shortcomings and the errors made in addressing sovereign debt issues.” The EP President remains “convinced that the euro project is the right approach”; yet the EU currency “must bolster the social market economy to bring prosperity and create jobs for everyone. It is essential, therefore, that we build upon and finish what we have started.”
An engine of growth. To function to the best of its capacities the euro currency lacks veritable economic and financial governance, banking union, shared fiscal policy. Moreover, the euro currency is a half-completed project, or, according to euro-optimists, it’s a project under construction. A half-full or half-empty glass according to the perspective… Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, (ECB) shared his interpretation: “The euro is the most tangible representation of European integration that our citizens encounter, on a daily basis. It is fitting, then, to celebrate this anniversary.” For the ECB President, who made some political remarks, “ensuring economic prosperity and stability over the long term is a shared challenge that is best faced collectively. We are stronger together.” He added: “With the Single Market, we have a powerful engine of sustainable growth to underpin our living standards. The euro has safeguarded the integrity of the Single Market. Today, our economies are integrated to a point that was not imaginable when the euro was designed.” Today most challenges “are global and can be addressed only together.” Thus “together” is once again the key-word.

Incomplete project. Draghi also mentioned some of the difficulties: “In some countries, not all of the euro’s benefits have been realised in full. Partly, this is because reforms at national level are necessary, and they would be so under any monetary system, to produce sustainable growth; partly, because the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) remains incomplete. Today, our duty is complete what was started two decades ago.”

“We showed insufficient solidarity towards Greece.” The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker was trenchant as usual; while he started by highlighting the importance of the single currency, he went on to underline some of the weaknesses of this process: the incomplete economic convergence of eurozone Countries, the lack of efficient governance for the Economic and Monetary Union, the flawed social convergence in defence of the rights of people, workers and families. Then Juncker expressed out loud an examination of conscience: during the years of the crisis too much emphasis was placed on austerity and rigour, and furthermore, “We have been insufficiently supportive of Greece, and of the Greek people.” “Now I am pleased to acknowledge that Greece, Portugal, other Countries” afflicted by the crisis, have “recovered I would not say a place in the sun but a place among the old European democracies.”

Faulty structure. The President of the Eurogroup, Mario Centeno, declared that the “euro is now a symbol of European identity.” It is the currency of 19 EU countries, drawing their economies nearer. Furthermore the single currency strengthens EU’s role at international level.” Speaking in his capacities as economist he placed the emphasis on “a set of flaws of the euro-structure”, which the Eurogroup must seek to resolve “by increasing the resilience of the euro currency, so as to deliver concrete benefits to our economies, production systems and to European citizens.”

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