varoufakis87_ Zheng HuansongXinhua via Getty Images_euros Zheng HuansongXinhua via Getty Images

How the Euro Divided Europe

When eurozone finance ministers recently issued a joint paean to the single currency on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of euro banknotes and coins, something remarkable happened: Nothing. No one joined in the celebrations, and no one cared enough to dissent.

ATHENS – Twenty years ago this month, Europe’s common currency became a tangible reality with the introduction of euro banknotes and coins. To mark the occasion, eurozone finance ministers issued a joint statement that called the currency “one of the most tangible achievements of European integration.” In fact, the euro did nothing to promote European integration. Quite the contrary.

The euro’s primary purpose was to facilitate integration by eliminating the cost of currency conversions and, more importantly, the risk of destabilizing devaluations. Europeans were promised that it would encourage cross-border trade. Living standards would converge. The business cycle would be dampened. It would bring greater price stability. And intra-eurozone investment would yield faster productivity growth overall and convergent growth between member countries. In short, the euro would underpin the benign Germanization of Europe.

Twenty years later, none of these promises has been fulfilled. Since the eurozone’s formation, intra-eurozone trade grew by 10%, substantially lower than the 30% increase in global trade and, more significantly, the 63% increase in trade between Germany and a trio of European Union countries that did not adopt the euro: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.