To mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the European Monetary Institute (EMI), the Royal Mint of Belgium decided to mint a commemorative coin of two euros bearing the effigy of its first president, Baron Alexandre Lamfalussy. The coin was officially unveiled on May 9, 2019 -Europe Day- in the presence of Finance Minister Alexander De Croo, NBB Governor Pierre Wunsch and Mrs Lamfalussy at the museum of the National Bank of Belgium. During the ceremony, Professor Ivo Maes went over the impressive career of this Belgian economist who stood at the cradle of the single currency.
Who was Alexandre Lamfalussy?
At the age of 19, Alexandre Lamfalussy fled his native Hungary to escape from communist repression. He came to Belgium to study at the Catholic University of Leuven. Armed with a doctorate in economics from the University of Oxford, he worked for more than 20 years with Banque de Bruxelles. Mr Lamfalussy joined the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the ‘‘central bankers’ central bank” in 1976 as Economic Adviser and, in 1986, became General Manager.
In this capacity, Alexandre Lamfalussy was able to take part in all the important debates on the future changes that would usher in market liberalisation and eventually a common currency. The Delors Report published in 1989 provided the framework for European monetary union. The report was taken up in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which set out the different stages. The target date for launching the monetary union was set at 1 January 1999 and that for the single currency to become legal tender was fixed at 1 January 2002. The Treaty created an institution that was destined for a very short life: the European Monetary Institute (EMI) founded in 1994. Its objective was to pave the way for a new and much longer-term institution, the European Central Bank (ECB).
In 1994 Alexandre Lamfalussy was chosen as president of this institute. From the coordination of monetary policy to the design of the new banknotes, the decisions he had to take were numerous and, in his view, fascinating. The task was not easy and he had to work around the pervading pessimism among some actors which still did not believe the single currency was a realistic prospect. The ECB was finally established on 1 June 1998.
Alexandre Lamfalussy, who died on 9 May 2015 (Europe Day, of all coincidences), would nevertheless live to see the arrival of the single currency and the first decade and a half of its existence. Twenty years later, the “founding father of the euro” is depicted himself on a euro coin.
The detail of the new coin
The obverse shows, on the right, the portrait of Alexandre Lamfalussy and, below his name and the year of issue, 2019. On the left, the abbreviation “EMI”, “1994”, when the Monetary Institute was founded, and, on the edge, the words “European Monetary Institute”. Below, there are overlapping coins marked “€”, “ECU” and “BEF” (from top to bottom) to symbolize Belgium’s transition to the single currency. The coin is designed by Luc Luycx, engraver of medals and coins at the Royal Mint of Belgium.