A group of seven people is working weekly to launch a new Basque currency by the end of 2012 with the goal of promoting local business, Basque culture and environmental protection. The currency (provisionally called "euskal moneta" until a participatory process christens it) is not intended to substitute the euro, but to "promote the emergence of a greener and more human economy", according to the website of the project. The first tests are expected in late 2012 in Northern Basque Country (i. e. the Basque area within the borders of the French Republic), with the goal to expand the new currency to the whole Basque Country later.
The system works as follows. Euskal moneta (EM) banknotes are issued and can be purchased at a fixed rate in euros. EM banknotes can then be used in all Basque shops and businesses that accept them. Shoppers and businesses can then re-use them locally. But if they want to exchange EM into euros, they lose 2% of the total value.
So then, which are the benefits for businesses? According to the organizers, they are several. First: EM can only be used in shops and businesses that adhere to the project, so this means "gaining new costumers" among all those people that take part in it. Second: EM will act as a seal of quality, since only shops and businesses that are eco-friendly, locally based, and implementing good social policies will be accepted into the system. Third: as money is lost if EM are changed into euros, local recirculation of the Basque currency is encouraged, and this has positive effects for local economy.
An idea mirrored in Bavarian local currency
The promoters of the would-be Basque currency recognize that they are not pioneers because, in fact, a similar -and successful- idea is working since 2003 in Bavaria. A parallel currency to the euro, the chiemgauer, has been in place since then in the municipality of Prien am Chiemsee. The project was aimed at stimulating local economy, since it retains purchasing power localy, and also at promoting cultural and environmental activities, since it supports NGOs working in those fields. According to the organizers of the chiemgauer system, there are more than 615,000 chiemgauers in circulation right now (1 chiemgauer equals to 1 euro).
Promoting the Basque culture and language
The EM project has an important difference if compared to chiemgauers: one of the major goals is to "reinforce the use of Basque in public life". The promoters of EM think that this can be achieved through linking the new currency to the commitment by shops and businesses to use Basque in internal communications, public signs and informations. In the end, they say, an own currency "is an institution" that "brings a well-defined territory [the Basque Country] into existence".
(Picture: EM banknotes as designed and depicted on euskalmoneta.info)