E Pluribus Euro
Out of many nations, one currency. That's not exactly a motto to rival e pluribus unum (out of many, one), which is stamped on every new American coin. But it's one succinct way to explain the historic wonder of 300 million people in 12 nations embracing the euro this week.
The euro's successful launch is the most tangible expression yet of a long experiment to create a united states of Europe that could rival the power and stability of the United States.
More than symbolic, the monetary portion of this grand experiment is as significant as a similar historic struggle in the 1780s. After independence, the 13 former American colonies made the difficult decision to give up their own coins and bills and their loose confederation to form a more perfect union based on a federal dollar and a newly minted Constitution.
And look how that effort paid off.
Money by nature relies on trust, and Europeans have decided over the past few decades that trust sure beats repeating the wars of the 20th century.
The choice to adopt the euro came after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and West Germany made a pact with France to surrender its mark, and thus some sovereignty, in exchange for allowing reunification with East Germany.
The euro's strong economic pull is in its potential to reduce costs for the European Union's mighty, melding market.
Gone are the border currency exchanges between 12 of the 15 European Union nations that so far have dropped their national currencies for the euro. Consumers can more easily comparison shop. Bond sales are continental, helping small countries. The euro has become the world's second- mightiest currency against the dollar, boosting EU trade. Even the game Monopoly might cost less by having only one (fake) currency in Europe.
Critics wonder if the euro's convergence of a continental identity will erode each nation's cultural uniqueness. But globalization and such pan-European activities as soccer already do that. And while many Germans may lament the loss of their beloved mark, or the French their franc, people in neither nation are becoming Irish or Greek anytime soon.
In the US, regional differences remain strong. While the US has been homogenized over 225 years, South Carolina still cannot easily be mistaken for Massachusetts, even if both states have Howard Johnson motels, teach Moby Dick in schools, and watch the Super Bowl at the same time. And last we checked, native Bostonians still drop their R's and make up traffic rules as they drive.
The new eurozone remains in a political twilight zone over how much to create a superstate. Despite the euro, each nation still manages its economy. That explains why the euro's value is weak against the dollar. Should the EU harmonize tax policies, pension rules, labor mobility policies, etc.?
Yes, but slowly and carefully. For each nation to compromise on its social regulations would overturn a century of building safety nets for individuals and businesses. Yet not doing so would keep Europe second in its economy to a more flexible US.
To help the EU sort out the potential strengths and weaknesses of further integrating itself, it plans a constitutional convention starting in March, similar to the one in Philadelphia in 1787.
But without Sweden, Denmark, and especially Britain signing onto the euro soon, integration will falter.
The EU is an experiment to shave off the worst of nationalism and create a new identity loosely defined as European. As long as Europe remembers its history of wars, and wants to compete against a superpower across the Atlantic, it will create its own unique form of unity.