By Richard Giedroyc
Napoleon is meeting his Waterloo – again, as Belgium surprised France by going ahead with the sale of its 2½ euro coins marking Napoleon’s defeat despite France’s official protests regarding a previously planned issue.
France initially outmaneuvered Belgium’s attempt to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo with a commemorative 2 euro coin by insisting to Council of Europe representatives of the European Union that a coin marking the event would hurt the coherence of the eurozone by offending French citizens. Belgium and France are among nations using the common European Union euro coin and bank note system. Belgium appeared to give up without a fight, canceling the sale of all 180,000 coins and likely taking a 2.5 million euro loss by so doing.
On June 8 Belgium surprised France by issuing the EU’s first 2½ euro coin, a Waterloo anniversary coin with a mintage of 70,000 pieces all struck at the Belgian Royal Mint. Several thousand silver composition 10 euro coins were also to be sold, these at 42 euros each.
According to the Federal Public Service of Belgium website, “This is the first Belgian coin with a nominal value of 2½ euro. The coin portrays the picture of the Waterloo hill and a schematic position of the troops during the battle.”
The statement continues to describe the silver coin as depicting the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Orange, the commanders whose armies defeated Napoleon at the battle. On June 18, 1815 Napoleon was defeated by combined British and Prussian forces at the village about 15 kilometers south of Brussels in what is today Belgium. At the time Belgium and the Netherlands did not yet exist. Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena where he died in 1821.
Perhaps Napoleon was forced to give up his dreams of conquering Europe, but the Belgians didn’t give up their dream of commemorating the anniversary of the battle at which Napoleon’s goals were dashed. Belgian authorities used a rule allowing EU members to issue coins if the coins are in an irregular denomination. EU nations issue 1 and 2 euro coins for circulation. Higher denominations are issued as bank notes.
Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt defended the new coin, saying: “The goal is not to revive old quarrels. In a modern Europe, there are more important things to sort out. But there’s been no battle in recent history as important as Waterloo, or indeed one that captures the imagination in the same way.” Van Overtveldt added that the new coins were not meant to anger France.
Belgium was marking the Waterloo anniversary with a four-day celebration in June. The Belga news agency said the celebration had a budget of almost 5 million euros and was expected to draw 200,000 spectators. Napoleon’s two-horned hat was on exhibit, loaned by a French museum.
Germany has never protested when in the past France issued a coin marking the D-day Allied troop landing during World War Two, the Soviet Union celebrating its World War Two victories over Germany, or the United States 50th anniversary issues of the victory over Germany, Japan, and their allies during the same conflict.
Poland celebrated the 600th anniversary of its victory over the German Teutonic Knights and their Western European allies at the Battle of Tannenberg/Grunwald in 2010 without any objections being lodged by Germany or by the western European allies of the Teutonic Knights.
The Soviet Union celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino in 1987, again without any complaints being made by France.
If to the victors go the spoils it appears Belgium is the winner this time.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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