OPINION

The euro is more than money

I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out 7.50 euros in coins. Three 2-euro coins and three 50-cent pieces. The 2-euro coins are all the same on one side — a big 2, the word EURO and a map of Europe. On the other side, one coin has a stylized tree symbolizing life, and the motto of the French Republic, ?Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.? The second coin bears the eagle, which is the symbol of German sovereignty, the stars of the European Union and no mention of Germany. The third has a stick figure of a person whose one arm stretches into part of the euro symbol — it is Belgian, from 2009, and it commemorates the 10th anniversary of Economic Monetary Union a year earlier. All my 50-cent coins happen to bear the portrait of the great 20th-century Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, within a circle of EU stars, like the German eagle.

In my pocket I find symbols and reality, the history and daily life of Europe and of my country. I don?t want to lose this mundane reality, nor the symbols of Greece?s place in Europe, nor our common course. It?s a two-way bond: In pockets across Europe, our partners will find Greek 2-euro coins engraved with the image of a maiden on the back of Zeus disguised as a bull. The maiden is the mythical Europe, who gave our continent its name.

The euro is a personal issue. It is not just the currency in which we measure our wages or our savings, it is not just the debt which chokes us, it is not just the currency which represents Europe in the global economy. It is the currency with which we measure every success and every failure on this road, with which we measure the Europeans? determination to create a strong economic and political union. But it is also a tangible bond between each citizen and those of other countries that share the same money, which allows us to travel, work, study without the obstacles of a foreign currency, without our being different — foreign.

The value and longevity of every currency depends on its stability, in the confidence it inspires in its users. In the past, this depended on what coins were made of, today on the strength of the economy the currency represents. And here we see the strength and the weakness of the euro: Whereas Europe?s economy is the world?s largest, each state has its own policies and own problems, without a center to absorb the knocks on the road toward stronger union, which would ensure a more efficient distribution of production and consumption.

In the fever of our crisis, we forget Greece?s debt crisis ought not have become a crisis in confidence for the euro or for the EU as a whole. Sure, the Greek politicians are responsible for our economy?s derailment, but a far more serious problem is that the EU was unprepared for drastic measures that would fortify its economy. The major countries? leaders did not take immediate measures that would assure the world the eurozone is a powerful economy that can take care of a domestic issue such as the failure of one of its members. Instead, we had half-measures and an unfortunate scapegoating of the Greek people.

From the moment the politicians and press of our partners and creditors painted the Greeks as a nation of frauds who live large at their expense, while, at the same time, many Greek politicians and media pretended that there was no crisis and no need for austerity and reforms, a climate of suspicion was cultivated on both sides. We all forgot that the problem was not only that of a country that was over its head in debt and hugely dysfunctional, but also that of a Union that did not function with unity. The EU did not focus on a solution at the European level, one that would create a system for loans and repayment, that would not allow a country to break the rules but would also prevent it from being on its own in facing the markets and its creditors.

If we want to find our way forward, let us look into our pockets: Each coin represents what is best in each country, what it offers in terms of its economy and its culture. We all have something to give, something to gain. Today and tomorrow.