Invented in Lydia in the 6th century, money was adopted by the Greeks and then passed on to the rest of the Mediterranean world, as it also came into existence in other parts of the world. Not only a tool of economic value, it also quickly became a political tool as well; indeed, the kings, and later the Roman Emperor and European kings minted coins that bore their effigy, thereby indicating the legitimacy of the monarch’s rule. The Greek poleis minted coins that bore the symbol of the polis, thus demonstrating its independence from its neighbors. In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, when most European kingdoms became republics, the coins and newly invented bills were decorated with portraits of men–and sometimes women–who had an important impact on the country: scientists, philosophers, writers, etc. Thus, on French bills figured Moliere, Voltaire, Antoine de St-Exupery, Marie Curie, etc, who all represented not only what they offered the country, but thus what the country contributed to European culture and civilization.
With the advent of the Euro, all these figures disppeared and left the ground for abstract, fictive architectural monuments. The rationale behind this was that the depiction of a real monument–say the Colosseum-would be seen as unfair by other countries. The coins do not have this problem, since the design of the tail was left to each individual country, but nothing of the sort could be done with bills mass produced by the Central Bank.
This situation, that we must resort to designed abstractions of architectural creations, is sad in the sense that it fails to understand the significance of art and culture in Europe: even though the Colosseum is today in Italy, or Victor hugo is French, or the Parthenon is Greek, or again Goethe is German, they all represent an aspect of European culture created over the centuries. Cervantes may be Spanish, Notre-Dame may be in France, they nonetheless remain European in that they are the product of European creativity, since a current that developped in a country–in fact, most developped in several places at the same time–never was contained in that country but was usually adopted all over Europe. Thus, Notre-Dame and the Cologne cathedral represent aspects of the Gothic style, which was in use almost everywhere in Western Europe; Dante, Rabelais, Shakspeare, are all representative of the movement born in the Renaissance, in Italy, yet no one will deny that it also was a European movement. Charlemagne belongs as much to France and Germany as he also symbolize a certain European cultural renewal. And what of Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid, or Cicero? Far from belonging to a single people, these are rather the best example of a shared cultural heritage, as is Classical architecture and Christianity.
The fact that European money lacks any concrete design, instead having abstract and non-existent realities, relveals much about the state of an institution which has many times proven unable and unwilling to face its own history and culture, often dismissing it altogether in the name of a so-called “tolerance” or “respect for others.” Rejecting our culture is not a solution, because it means rejecting what Europe is. When we look at a church, a work of art, a scientific discovery, or again a poem, we must see not a German, Greek, French, Italian or Polish creation only, but rather the product of the European mind, a part of a common heritage. Another solution would also be to provide our money with designs symbolizing Europe, as the American Dollar. In any event, the redesign of our common currency is necessary if we want to show that Europe is a concrete reality and not merely an abstraction.