Euro(s) Go South
by Georgios Papadopoulos
The North encouraged the prodigal euro to leave. Now it seems confused
Money circulates and through its circulation it creates value. There is even an equation about it. MV + M¹V¹ = ΣpQ = PT to re-territorialize the random walk of money. The principle is simple: Money is attracted by prices and they tend to grow together. The so-called quantity theory of money argues that the more the money the higher the prices, heating up the economy and pumping up monetary wealth. Wealth is growing and deflating at an ever more erratic pace, following money, which is also kind of blind, traveling around at high velocities, from country to country, in cyberspace, in the black market, changing hands, wallets, pockets. There seems to be only one rule—money is attracted by money (opposites in the case of economics do not attract, so the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich).
The ritualistic character of money is manifest in its repetitive and unreflective everyday use. We relate to money on a practical level; theoretical understanding of the meaning and functions of money comes only later, if at all. We may be agnostic about the role of money, the mysteries of economic value or the constitution of the system of prices, but the use of money is a continuous ritual of investment in the ideology. Money develops from a mere carrier of its social function, as a standard of value and a means of payment, to the dominant organising force of our social interaction. Social relations are reconfigured through the intermediation of money. The signifying omnipotence of the master signifier is combined with the omnipresence of everyday use, effectively quilting the signifying chain of the system of prices both at the level of meaning and at the level of practice. Social illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what people are doing.
The EURO! Our great illusion of community that is realized to bring the Europeans together is not like other money. It does not simply circulate and is defying the mandates of the quantity theory of money; it has an opinion and a sense of direction. The EURO likes to go SOUTH and it is not attracted by other money—it is a bit snobby in that sense. So billions of EUROs in many denominations are leaving the cold of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland and travel everyday to the SOUTH. In the bars of Portugal, the beaches of Cyprus, the clubs of Spain, the ports of Southern France, the islands of Greece. (Ireland is exception—some EUROs travel there, maybe because of the good pubs.) The EURO likes good weather and to lay in the sun. When it arrives in the SOUTH it does not really circulate—this of course explains why the countries of the SOUTH remain poor, their markets stagnant, their youth unemployed, their households poor, despite all the EUROs that come from the north but remain idle, hoarded, immobile. But the EURO does not care about all that. It is not like other currencies.
The countries of the NORTH, unable to stop the mass exodus of the EUROs, decided to accept it. But as is usually the case with cheated lovers or betrayed parents, they try to pretend that they are the ones who allowed, or even encouraged, the prodigal EURO to leave. The SOUTH needs our help, argues the NORTH in the language of many officials, so we would like to send our beloved currency, the source of all wealth and prosperity. Let the EURO circulate in the SOUTH, let us share our wealth with our brothers and sisters, the same way we share our history, our identity and our culture. Secretly they plot to bring the EURO back. But how? The NORTH seems confused. Why is the EURO not circulating in the SOUTH? How did it even get there?
The EURO looks like the NORTH and is created in its image.
The iconography of the EURO attempts to reassemble the NORTH’s constructed memories of Europe’s past and present through a series of abstracted architectural references. Windows and gateways used as icons of this architectural style are meant to symbolize “the spirit of openness and co-operation in Europe”, while the bridges are “a metaphor for communication among the people of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.” The NORTH likes irony: Europe is “open” like a fortress; it “cooperates” like NORTH and SOUTH. What is obvious in the dress of the EURO is not just bad style. A lack of imagination about a common European identity that can arouse feelings of belonging and community is prominent. The abstracted architectural imagery is yet another reverberation of the arid, brutal and de-territorialized space of capital, the organising utopia that the NORTH likes to impose on the SOUTH. A utopia where the EURO circulates and does not loiter, where the EURO is attracted by other money.
In the EURO’s constitutive ideology the SOUTH occupies a contradictory position, as the cultural foundation of the European imaginary as well as the Other to its excluding normativities. “Greece” is the EURO’s first formal reference: the glyph €, published in 1996, is explained by the European Commission on Economic and Financial Affairs as “inspired by the Greek Epsilon pointing back to the cradle of European civilization and the first letter of Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to indicate the stability of the Euro.” The Greek and the Roman alphabet—spell EURO // ΕΥΡΩ, pointing back to the first EUROpean variety of civilization. The SOUTH must be accounted for and alluded to; it is inscribed everywhere and provides the semiotic material for the EURO’s signification. Maybe that is why it goes SOUTH. It looks for its past and its true ancestors.
The difficult relationship between the NORTH and the SOUTH has manifested itself in money. The exodus of the EURO is not an accident; it is the symptom of a divide. The EURO is a promise of enjoyment that mediates the relationships of a European community. If money is the screen upon which we project our desire for a prosperous future based on a community of equals, the master signifier that inserts our conception of EUROpe into the capitalist systems of production and circulation, then the locus of the economic crisis cannot be anything but the EURO itself and the institutions that support it. The lack of confidence in the EUROpean financial architecture, and in the market in general, is nothing more than the reversal of the mechanisms that regulate the constitution of EUROpe as an economic and monetary union.
And the EURO stays SOUTH. Maybe forever. The NORTH is getting impatient. It does not work, it does not circulate, it is trouble and crisis: Identity Crisis, Existential Crisis, EUROpean crisis. The EURO is really going SOUTH and with it so does EUROpe in the image of which it is created. From the Crown Jewel of the European Project the EURO has transformed to a Nemesis that will bring down not only our illusions of a shared identity but also the material conditions that supported its establishment.