The euro’s debut on New Year’s Day—a huge, pontification-friendly story that had been scheduled for years—was a godsend for hangover-ridden editorial writers. In the dozen countries that have adopted the euro, reactions were relentlessly positive: Le Figaro declared, “The franc is dead, long live the euro,” and in an editorial headlined “Euro-euphoria,” Spain’s El País said: “The biggest monetary unification in history is complete. Now there’s no going back.” France’s Libération agreed, “The European Union has crossed the Rubicon. No more U-turns are possible on the road to the unification of Europe.”
Pro-euro papers editorialized for political integration to follow economic integration. “In a common market with a common currency, it would be quite absurd to allow fifteen different economic, social and labor market policies to muddle along alongside and against each other,” said the Frankfurter Rundschau. The Financial Times observed that as the EU expands, monetary policy-making will have to be remodeled: “Consensual decision-making in a governing council with 27 members could make monetary policy less responsive.”
Britain, which along with Denmark and Sweden eschewed the new currency, was less gung-ho. On E-Day, the tabloid Sun’s front page screamed, “The dawn of a new error,” and its editorial warned: “The euro is born. And thank goodness Britain is not part of it. The future prosperity of 305m European citizens is being risked in a flawed, politically inspired gamble.” The Financial Times conceded that the “new currency is a triumph of political will over practical objections” and concluded:
Much depends on the underlying economic performance. A euro that delivers growth and low inflation would help to restore confidence in the EU’s institutions. It would provide cement for the cohesion of the union. But if the currency comes to symbolise stagnation, the EU itself will be blamed. The euro is not merely an instrument for monetary transactions: it is also a symbol of Europe’s common purpose. Therein lies the risk, as well as the challenge.
The Euro-skeptic Timesof London claimed that “one in three young women” could be allergic to euro coins. Apparently, they contain so much nickel (four times as much as the British pound and 16 times as much as the French franc) that millions of people, “particularly shop assistants, can expect to develop eczema from allergic reactions.” Writing in the Europhobic Sunday Telegraph, Mark Steyn mocked the euro bills, which are decorated with “splendid buildings that live only in the boundless Euroimagination.” He continued, “[I]n their present purely fictitious state, the magnificent landmarks are a disarmingly straightforward acknowledgment of the EU’s thought processes: 1. Great powers show symbols of national identity on their currency; 2. But we’ve acquired a currency before we’ve acquired a national identity; 3. So we’ll pencil in the symbols and build them later—pas de probleme!” Die Weltof Hamburg saw the other side of the coin, erm, bill: “The euro will build bridges and open doors such as those symbolically depicted on its bank notes.” (German translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)
For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the arrival of the euro symbolized Germany’s postwar rehabilitation: “The common currency links yesterday’s wartime opponents today. Who could have envisioned it back in 1945, given the horror of World War II and the enduring mistrust of defeated Germany?” This point was echoed in a Jerusalem Postop-ed, which foresaw regional cooperation in the Middle East:
The idea of a “new Middle East” in which everyone instantly becomes friends and forgets the past is a false scenario. But a region which would begin to have some minimal economic cooperation, open its borders to workers and goods, and adopt some joint environmental (perhaps water conservation) standards, would be a start. … To think about such a scenario today seems like the stuff Harry Potter is made of—a fantasy, a dream of the naive. But most Europeans didn’t think much differently back in the early 1950s.
No new currency for Argentina: Almost every story about Argentina’s “Christmas crisis” noted that Peronist Eduardo Duhalde, elected Tuesday to serve as head of a “government of national salvation” until 2003, is the country’s “fifth president in two weeks.” Although the details of Duhalde’s economic plan won’t be announced until Sunday, it seems certain that penultimate President Adolfo Rodríguez Saá’s plan for the “argentino,” a new currency that would float alongside the pesos and U.S. dollars already in circulation, is dead. Duhalde also confirmed that he will default on Argentina’s $132 billion foreign debt and end “convertability”—the pegging of the peso to the U.S. dollar on a one-for-one basis. (For a backgrounder on the Argentine crisis, see this story in the London Times.) Several papers raised red flags about Duhalde, who, according to the Financial Times, “has been dogged by allegations of corruption and nepotism” throughout his career. The FT reported that his 1999 presidential campaign (he lost to Fernando de la Rua) was “accused by the head of Interpol Mexico of receiving more than $1m of drug money from the Mexico-based Juárez Cartel. Mr Duhalde strongly denied the allegations.” An op-ed in Britain’s Independent hinted that the street protests that led to de la Rua’s resignation may have been incited by “unscrupulous politicians.” It continued, “The dubious legacy of President [Juan] Peron is still strong. Opportunism, demagoguery and chicanery rule. … The shadow of Peron is as huge as Argentina. Perhaps only the failure of a Peronist such as Mr Duhalde will break its spell.”