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A Coin War Is Erupting Between France and Belgium

Even after France forced Belgium to quit minting a 2 euro coin commemorating the infamous battle, the state did not admit defeat.
June 9, 2015, 7:30pm
Photo par Olivier Hoslet/EPA

In a bold move that flies in the face of its neighbor's wishes, Belgium has minted a 2.5 euro coin to mark the bicentennial of the infamous Battle of Waterloo — undermining a previous French veto on the controversial design.

The coin commemorating Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat at Waterloo — located in present-day Belgium — is the exact same size, metal, and shape, and even features the same design as Belgium's previous 2 euro coin, which France moved to block from production earlier this year.

For some it has been a source of amazement that the French are still up in arms over the coin, some two centuries after the fall of its first empire at the infamous 1815 battle. Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt noted Monday that he is "a bit surprised by all this agitation."

"Europe has plenty of other issues to deal with and challenges to overcome without wasting time and energy on this," Van Overtveldt said in a statement in March.

Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt shows a commemorative unofficial two euro, fifty cent coin that has been minted to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA

The coin war between the countries escalated earlier in March this year when France penned a letter of objection to Eurozone states condemning Belgium's coin, which bears an image of The Lion Hill — the main memorial monument at Waterloo.

Paris argued the coin was a "negative symbol" for some Europeans, and has the potential to offend French citizens.

"The Battle of Waterloo has a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict," the letter said, according to RFI. "The circulation of these coins carrying a negative symbol for a section of the European population seems detrimental at a time when Eurozone governments are trying to build unity and cooperation under the single currency."

To avoid a "second Battle of Waterloo," as the currency conflict has since been coined, Belgium scrapped the 180,000 coins it had already minted, worth roughly 1.5 million euros.

But the state ultimately did not accept defeat, rounding back with a fresh push for the Lion Hill design on a 2.5 euro coin this month — just in time for the true 200 year anniversary, on June 18. Because the coin is not legal tender, it is also not subject to approval by the Council of EU Ministers.

Van Overtveldt said that Belgium intends to mint 70,000 of the new coins, and denied it was an act designed to "revive old quarrels." He reiterated his earlier statement that "in a modern Europe, there are more important things to sort out," but added that, "there's been no battle in recent history as important as Waterloo, or indeed one that captures the imagination in the same way."

Related: Nationwide Strikes Over Austerity Cuts Brings Belgium to a Standstill