Belgium to France: Euro this, Napoleon!

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A worker displays newly minted commemorative 2.5 euro coins to mark the bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo.

A worker displays newly minted commemorative 2.5 euro coins to mark the bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters

If you like epic trolling stories, you’ll love this. Belgium recently released a special coin. The denomination? 2.5 euros.

It’s legal tender, but only in Belgium — also the birthplace of surrealism.

What this special coin depicts has the French up in arms. That's because the coin celebrates the victory over Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago.

On the coin the design depicts an iconic lion atop a cone-shaped mountain where the battle took place. On the other side? Lines delineating where troops were stationed during the June 18, 1815 thumping of the French, which ended two decades of on-and-off Napoleonic warfare.

"It’s kind of an epic display of French humiliation on the battlefield," says Dan Bilefsky, a reporter at the New York Times, who also has lived in Belgium.

But were the Belgians really looking to stick it to the French? Bilefsky notes that Belgium is a county of 10.5 million people "and the size of New Jersey whose iconic national monument is a little boy urinating into a fountain. France has the Eiffel Tower and Chanel, you tell me what you think."

So how did this coin come to be? 2.5 euros is a very unusual denomination, which it seems would be problematic for the monitary standards across the Europeon Union.

France initially objected to a 2-euro coin proposed by Belgium for the Waterloo commemoration. But other countries rallied around the French on the argument that it would create disunity at a time when Europe is already being buffeted by the economic crisis and Greece on the verge of defaulting.  

Bilefsky says Belgium got around this rule by minting this 2.5-euro coin on the grounds that if a country mints a denomination that’s irregular it can circumvent EU rules. It's a funny loophole, but the currency won't really be accepted across the eurozone.

"One will be able to use it in shops around Belgium and indeed there is already a huge demand among collectors," Bilefsky says. "But, it will not be used outside of Belgium and certainly not at retails stores in Paris or the south of France."

The minting of the Waterloo coin does seem to highlight the old Belgian/France rivalry, not to mention the chauvinistic jokes between the French and the Belgians. And this all comes at a time when there are so many other issues facing the eurozone. So why the fight over numismatic design?

"Despite it seeming to be a battle over something quite farcical and surreal, there is a serious point to this, which is that decades after the start of European integration, nationalism still rises to the surface and countries like Belgium and France and still fight over something that seems as small-minded as a coin," Bilefsky says.

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