(The author of this blog entry is not an English native speaker. Do not hesitate making suggestions or proposing language corrections. A French version is available here.)
As the national sides of Belgian euro coins all show the portrait of the King, commemorative €2 coins are the only numismatic means of expressing original national features or characteristics.
You will find here a first draft of the small database I made on these coins, a first attempt that I hope to extend to all euro coins, whether they are in circulation, commemorative or collector. It is a “Google Sheets” document. I am well aware of all the ethical problems associated with using a Google product, but for a computer ignoramus with no resources like me, this free application proved to be the most practical solution. If you have any suggestions for a database that would follow the recommendations of the Text Encoding Initiative, I am very interested.
Belgium has minted or had minted, as its coins are now minted in the Netherlands, 30 commemorative coins, 5 of which are issues common to all Eurozone countries, which I am not analyzing here; for my research, 25 coins can be analyzed according to different criteria.
Men and women
Like average euro coins, Belgian commemorative coins show few images of women. In 2012, a coin celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Queen Elisabeth competition shows a profile of the queen. As for the 2011 coin celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, because of the constrain of respecting linguistic parity, it shows two women, who are therefore tightly packed together in the coin, Isala Van Diest from Flanders and Marie Popelin, a French-speaker from Brussels. On the other hand, 9 men are represented on Belgian commemorative coins (Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg having the privilege to appear twice, in 2005 and in 2021, with two successive Belgian kings)1.
Here is a table presenting the main topics addressed by the Belgian 2 € commemorative coins:
|Topics||Number of coins|
|International institutions, conventions, declarations and years||8|
|Values, humanitarian organizations, philanthropy…||8|
|Heritahe and culture||Painting||2|
|Science and technology||4|
|University||2 or 3, if May 68 coin is included|
According to “Council Regulation (EU) No. 729/2014 of 24 June 2014 on denominations and technical specifications of euro coins intended for circulation“, whereas 15,
Individual Member States should be allowed to issue commemorative coins to celebrate subjects of major national or European relevance, whereas commemorative coins issued collectively by all Member States whose currency is the euro should be reserved for subjects of the highest European relevance. The 2-euro coin constitutes the most suitable denomination for this purpose, principally on account of the large diameter of the coin and its technical characteristics, which offer adequate protection against counterfeiting.
I was surprised to see that some Belgian commemorative coins do not really have a subject of “major national or European relevance”, and I hope that archival research, or oral interviews, will help discover the reasons that led to the minting of these coins. For example, why did Belgium strike a coin in 2009 to celebrate the bicentenary of Louis Braille’s birth? Although he is a “major European” character, he does not seem to have had any particular relationship with Belgium. Moreover, how can we explain the large volume of the 2020 issue of a coin celebrating the International Year of Plant Health (i.e. neither Belgian nor European): 755,000 coins, while the two commemorative coins preceding it and the four following it are issued only at 155,000 copies?
It can also be said that Belgian commemorative coins are parsimoniously used to celebrate the nation’s heritage or culture. If understandably the linguistic divisions of the country make it difficult to represent national figures or heroes, it seems to me that highlighting the national heritage could easily be done, as two commemorative coins are allowed for each member country of the eurozone, by celebrating the same year both a place in Bruxelles/Wallonie and a place in Flanders, as it was done for the anniversary of the universities of Ghent and Liege in 2017. Also noticeable is the absence of religious symbols (unless I am mistaken, only the cross on the 2014 coin celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Belgian red cross might be considered as a religious allusion).
On the other hand, Belgium’s involvement in international treaties, declarations, organizations or events is clearly shown as it constitutes at least one third of its commemorative coinage.
Similarly, a concern for universal values or sentiments or a humanitarian or ecological commitment are clearly expressed by Belgium because of the number of coins dedicated to these topics.
It is perhaps also worth noting that the number of coins devoted to science and technology is similar to that devoted to heritage and culture, which is, I think, proportionally larger than that found on all common coins intended for circulation.
Belgian commemorative coins therefore do not have the nostalgic character that I had detected in my analysis of all the euro coins in circulation. If, and this remains to be proven, the function of commemorative coins is to nourish a feeling or a sense of national belonging, it seems that the Belgian authorities responsible for minting commemorative coins wish to put forward values or good intentions rather than insist on a national identity forged by history.
In any case, this rather superficial iconographic analysis should be confronted with the archives left by the selection processes of the themes of the commemorative coins.
The Council is watching
Here is Article 10 of Council Regulation (EU) No. 729/2014 of June 24, 2014, already mentioned above, as well as the whereas 16 and 17 that justify it:
16. Taking into account that euro coins circulate in the whole euro area, to avoid the use of inappropriate designs, issuing Member States should inform each other and the Commission about draft designs for the national side of euro coins in advance of the planned issue date. The Commission should verify the compliance of the designs with the technical requirements of this Regulation. Submission of draft designs to the Commission should be made sufficiently in advance of the planned issue date for issuing Member States to modify the design if necessary.
17. Furthermore, uniform conditions for the approval of the designs of the national sides of euro coins should be laid down to avoid the choice of designs which could be considered as inappropriate in some Member States. In view of the fact that the competence for an issue as sensitive as the design of the national sides of the euro coins belongs to the issuing Member States, implementing powers should be conferred on the Council. (…)
1. Member States shall inform each other of the draft designs of new national sides of circulation coins, including the edge lettering, and, for commemorative coins, of the estimated volume of issuance, before the formal approval of those designs.
2. The power to approve designs for new or modified national sides of circulation coins shall be conferred on the Council acting by qualified majority in accordance with the procedure set out in paragraphs 3 to 7.
When taking the decisions referred to in this Article, the voting rights of the Member States whose currency is not the euro shall be suspended.
3. For the purpose of paragraph 1, draft designs of circulation coins shall be submitted by the issuing Member State to the Council, to the Commission and to the other Member States whose currency is the euro, in principle at least three months before the planned issue date.
4. Within seven days following the submission referred to in paragraph 3, any Member State whose currency is the euro may, in a reasoned opinion addressed to the Council and to the Commission, raise an objection to the draft design proposed by the issuing Member State if that draft design is likely to create adverse reactions among its citizens.
5. Where the Commission considers that the draft design does not respect the technical requirements set out by this Regulation, it shall, within seven days following the submission referred to in paragraph 3, submit a negative assessment to the Council.
6. If no reasoned opinion or negative assessment has been submitted to the Council within the time limit referred to in paragraphs 4 and 5 respectively, the decision approving the design shall be deemed to be adopted by the Council on the day following the expiry of the time limit referred to in paragraph 5.
7. In all other cases, the Council shall decide without delay on the approval of the draft design, unless, within seven days following the submission of a reasoned opinion or of a negative assessment, the issuing Member State withdraws its submission and informs the Council of its intention to submit a new draft design.
8. All relevant information on new national circulation coin designs shall be published by the Commission in the Official Journal of the European Union.
While I am still in the early stages of analysis, I am already aware of two instances of objections by members of the Council to proposed Belgian commemorative coins, one thematic, the other relating to the design and legend of the coin.
The story of the commemorative coin of the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo is well known because mass media had a day with it, and I will not dwell on it here. I will simply highlight the Council’s transparency policy, which allows online access to documents like this one:
We learn that the “Direction Générale du Trésor” of the French Republic was opposed to the Belgian project for the following reason:
This project of coin is indeed likely to generate adverse reactions in France.
The Battle of Waterloo is an event whose particular resonance in the collective consciousness goes beyond the simple evocation of a military conflict. The circulation of common coins with a negative symbolism for a fraction of the European population seems to us to be detrimental in a context where the governments of the euro zone are striving to strengthen unity and cooperation around the single currency.2
Belgium had to give up minting commemorative coins for Waterloo’s anniversary, but minted almost identical collector coins, which cannot be used in the other Eurozone countries and for which there is no need to consult the European Council.
Less well known are the changes that Belgium had to make to the design of the 2018 coin that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 events in Belgium.
Thanks to the Council’s transparency policy, we learn that, in a letter dated 29 March 2018, Alexandre DE GEEST, “Administrator of the General Administration of the Belgian Treasury”, informed Jeppe TRANHOLM-MIKKELSEN, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, of the following changes:
In respect of the previous submitted design, we removed any signs that could evoke a feeling of violence and omitted the title “student revolt”.
According to the illustration published by S. Wiotte3, the coin’s original design featured a larger flag and, shockingly !, unsealed paving stones, ready to be thrown at, who knows, police officers. One wonders what Delacroix would have thought of this, but it seems there are limits to the commemoration of revolutions or revolts. For the moment, I do not know which member of the Council expressed an objection to the Belgian project.
- The two people on the 2018 coin celebrating May 68 in Belgium seem to me to be very masculine, but I did not take them into account here [↩]
- Ce projet de pièce est en effet susceptible d’engendrer des réactions défavorables en France. La bataille de Waterloo est un événement dont la résonance particulière dans la conscience collective va au-delà de la simple évocation d’un conflit militaire. La circulation de pièces courantes portant une symbolique négative pour une fraction de la population européenne nous apparaît préjudiciable dans un contexte où les gouvernements de la zone euro s’efforcent de renforcer l’unité et et la coopération autour de la monnaie unique. [↩]
- S. Wiotte, Ces 2 euros que vous n’aurez jamais, Monnaie Magazine (4 January 2019 [↩]