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Europe Day is celebrated on 9 May each year. On that day we commemorate the declaration made by Robert Schuman in 1950. Robert Schuman was the French Minister for Foreign Affairs who on 9 May 1950 gave a speech leading to the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community. This event marked the beginning of European unification. The NBBmuseum highlights different facets of the European story and mainly focuses on the role Belgium has played in this tale.

Europa speelbal

Europe, back and forth between war and peace. Lithograph by Honoré Daumier, from Le Charivari, 1869. © Musée Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris

Europe’s past has been scarred with wars. Peace, whenever there was a truce, never lasted very long. Belgium was the site of many of these battles, earning itself the name of the “battlefield of Europe”. So, it is only logical that the country featured, in 1957, among the European Economic Community’s six founding nations. And it was no coincidence either that, in 1999, Belgium was once again amongst the frontrunners of the eleven countries making up the euro area. The idea behind European integration was that trade strengthens ties between nations and even more so when the trading partners share the same currency.

By joining the European Monetary Union, Belgium was not taking a leap into the unknown, far from it in fact. Between 1865 and 1926, the country was part of the Latin Monetary Union, which brought together France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, joined later by Greece. Each country kept its own currency, but gold and silver coins from the participating nations were legal tender in the other signatory countries.

In 1921, the Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union was set up and followed by a monetary union four years later. The Luxembourg franc and the Belgian franc had the same parity, but the two countries kept their own notes and coins. Economic agreements were concluded with the Netherlands too. The Benelux, comprised of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, was established in 1944 in the form of a customs union, but became an economic union in 1958 and still exists today.

In 1979, the ECU was introduced, taking the form of a basket of European currencies. Belgium is one of the few countries to have actually minted ECUs from 1987.

Twenty years later, the ECU was replaced by the euro. To this day, the Eurosystem is the most advanced monetary union that Europe has ever known. The common currency has made both domestic and international trade easier and the euro has evolved into the second most important currency in the world, after the dollar.