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New battle of Waterloo as France blocks special euro coin

Belgium hit out at France on Thursday after Paris forced it to scrap a new two-euro coin celebrating the 200th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Around 180,000 of the coins had already been produced when France objected on the grounds that it would create tensions, with Europe’s unity already under threat, officials said.

The coin, featuring an image of the monument at the battlefield and the words “Waterloo 1815-2015”, was part of major commemorations in Belgium of the French emperor’s defeat by British and Prussian forces.

“I am a bit surprised by all this agitation,” Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said in a statement.

“Europe has plenty of other issues to deal with and challenges to overcome without wasting time and energy on this.”

The Belgian government said that “France was opposed to the idea” and had received the support of several large European countries, meaning that if the issue went to a vote of EU ministers, then Paris would get its way.

Belgium said that to “calm feelings” it was instead looking at creating a commemorative Waterloo coin with a special value — three or five euros or perhaps another — which would not require the consent of other member states.

A letter sent by France said the coins could cause an “unfavourable reaction in France”, adding that “the Battle of Waterloo has a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict.”

“The circulation of these coins carrying a negative symbol for a section of the European population seems detrimental at a time when eurozone governments are trying to build unity and cooperation under the single currency.”

– Scrapped coins –

Belgium now faces having to scrap around 180,000 of the coins already minted which were to be sold as collectors’ items in special boxes at a price of eight euros.

“Once you have got rid of them all, there will be a loss of 1.5 million euros,” Manuela Wintermans of the NUOD finance ministry union told AFP.

The coin row has underscored that beneath all the talk of unity in the 28-member European Union, set up in the wake of World War II, national sensitivities still run deep and countries have long memories.

Napoleon Bonaparte was forced into exile after his grand European ambitions were crushed at the hands of the Duke of Wellington’s forces at the battle on June 18, 1815, which took place on what is now the outskirts of Brussels.

In one day around 12,000 soldiers were killed.

In June, Belgium will be holding a huge sound-and-light show to mark the battle followed by a reenactment of the fighting involving around 5,000 people.

The row comes as Napoleon’s famous two-horned hat was set to arrive at Waterloo for an exhibition after being loaned by a French museum.

Unlike banknotes which feature generic European scenes, euro coins are a national competence for countries in the 19-state eurozone.

They generally feature an image supplied by the nation that produces them, for example the German eagle or the French revolutionary symbol of liberty Marianne, in agreement with its partners.

But if a country wants to put out new motifs, for example on a commemorative coin, it has to notify the European Commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm, according to the European Central Bank.

Previous commemorative coins over the past year have included France’s 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Belgium’s centenary of the start of World War I, and Portugal’s International Year of Family Farming.