Small World

Jewish World Review July 13 , 2000 / 10 Tamuz, 5760

Europe's Euro Takes
a Dive, What a Shame!

By Richard Z. Chesnoff --

IN CASE you haven't noticed, the euro is in the dumps.

What's the euro, you ask?

That's the unified currency of the European Union. It's supposed to replace the French franc, German mark, Spanish peseta, Italian lira and all the rest of those funny foreign currencies that drive Europeans as nuts as they drive American tourists.

When they first launched the idea, European planners predicted that their monetary love child would outshine the dollar, eventually overtaking it as the world's most ubiquitous currency.

It hasn't happened. Last year, when it became publicly traded, the euro started out at a value of $1.20. But the financial pride of unified Europe tailspinned more than 22% to less than 88 American cents (it's now at 95 cents).

"That may be good for the pocketbook, but it's bad for the image," says American writer John Hunt, a longtime resident of France.

Some Continental economists say good news on the American markets — and growing U.S. interest rates — are just too much to compete with. Others cite growing European insecurity over plans to bring weak economies like those of Greece and Eastern Europe into the union.

Yet the fact is that things in Europe aren't that bad. Continental economic growth is expected to top 3% this year, and the inflation rate is running even lower than in the U.S. So why such low European self-confidence?

Part of it may just be that — poor self-image. For all their national and Continental chauvinism, Europeans still seem to suffer from habitual pessimism.

Of course, if all else fails, they can always blame America. In fact, some Europeans are convinced that the euro's misfortune is the result of some American plot engineered by President Clinton — or maybe even Bill Gates. Even poor George Soros, the Hungarian-born American financier, came in for suspicion, though he has been calling for the Europeans to bolster their currency.

Well, what do you expect? Our Continental cousins may love our technology, business schools, music, movies — even our fast food. But somewhere in every European lurks a little old fashioned anti-Yankeeism. As many Europeans see it, no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, their world is going to be manipulated from across the Atlantic by the wizards of American cultural, political and financial imperialism.

The only problem with that paranoid prophecy is that it's dangerously self-fulfilling. The fall of communism has created almost as many problems for Europe as it solved. And if the nations of Europe are finally going to unite and move forward economically, politically and socially, Europeans are going to have to accept responsibility for themselves.

So what's going to happen? Weak or not, next year the euro is supposed to become the only currency in use in much of Europe. Banks and stores already give prices in both local currencies and euros. By the year 2002, you'll be buying your postcards and souvenir Eiffel Towers in euros only — if all goes as planned.

Madame Sophie, the lady I buy olives from, doesn't think it will. "L'euro," she harrumphed when I brought up the subject. "You can forget about it. We'll still be thinking in francs — and using them, too."

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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