Cash is dying, and who will mourn the euro note?
Oh oh, we are ready to receive new euro banknotes. Still my beating heart.
There is no greater supporter of the European experience than this columnist. Every morning starts with a bratwurst, paella, espresso and a jug of that rotten fish that food presenters always wince at when they visit Scandinavia. I then bellowed Ode à la joie au chat while conducting an imaginary Berlin Philharmonic.
However, there is something sadly bland in the symbols of the European Union. Sensible people admire the simplicity of the star-spangled flag, but pretty much the only time everyone gets emotional is when Europe wins the Ryder Cup, and it has more to do with who we beat – evangelical protests sparkles of American devotion. to orthodontics – than any belief in a European golf policy (particularly because most players are now likely to come from outside the EU).
Remember when the Mouse House changed the name of its first theme park on this continent from Euro Disney to Disneyland Paris? We will never really hear why. But “Euro” suggests compromises on sausage casing ingredients and regulations on how much raw sewage is acceptable in drinking water. “Paris” evokes street cafés, poets in the garrets and Edith Piaf. The change was indeed followed almost immediately by the park reporting its first quarterly profit. The horrible word “Europudding” has long been used to describe a film that, flouted by too many bickering financiers from too many countries, ends up satisfying none of its target audiences. etc
A few years after Disneyland Paris changed, the EU confirmed that the common currency would indeed be called the euro. The following banknotes broke new ground in aesthetic blandness. One could reasonably argue that such things are mere tools of trade. How can it matter that they are pleasing to the eye? Unlike the US equivalent, the bills are easily distinguishable from each other. They seem sturdy. The numbers are clearly printed. It’s not like we used a lot of money in the last two years. What’s the problem? Well, whether it’s a hammer, a saucepan or a book cover, good design improves our lives and makes everyday toil a little more enjoyable.
The first Irish banknotes that I remember were those of the beautiful “Series A” edition which passed through wallets from the 1920s until 1977. Lady Lavery was on one side. The river gods were on the reverse. The five was so attractive you thought the thing itself was worth maybe £5. It was also an expression of national identity.
By contrast, the current euro banknotes appear to have been designed by the same people who award seating plans at EU dinners. Everything is calculated to avoid offense. Obviously, we can’t have people on these things. No Balzac without Goethe. No Napoleon without Bismarck. And that’s just the Franco-German rivalry. The decision to settle on architecture seemed less controversial, but the idea that we should see particular bridges – the Rialto Bridge in Venice and the Neuilly Bridge in Paris were originally proposed – was overruled in favor of generic ages and styles. Thus, the €10 is vaguely Roman and the €20 is standard Gothic. If you don’t care how banknotes look, well, you don’t. If you care, you’ll be dazzled when, from tasteless Euroland, you get your hands on 100 Aruba guilders (a green iguana) or 50,000 Ugandan shillings (a yellow gorilla). Watch Alan Turing on our neighbour’s new £50 note. Good luck getting an equally big number on the new euro.
The omens are not promising. A report tells us that “a panel of experts from each Member State would form an advisory group to propose a new theme”. The aim is to make the ratings “more relevant to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds”. That’s how we got here in the first place. No great work of art or design has emerged from an “advisory group”. Sure, there are honorable goals here, but pretty much the only “European-related” thing of all demographics is money itself. Not everyone likes Abba. Not everyone admires Dante. Even animal species (aside from the rat or pigeon) tend not to spread evenly across the continent. I have no idea of the economics here, but the idea of each country in the EU having its own banknotes – just like each country has its own coins – sounds promising. But can we trust nations not to choose Glok the Dreadful, who razed their neighbor’s capital in the 4th century, as the face of their €20 note? Almost certainly not. People are horrible. We are stuck with the committee.
The best we can hope for is a brilliant work of abstract design. We deserve something better. “Everyone needs money,” says Danny DeVito in David Mamet’s Heist. “That’s why they call it money.”