I am convinced that economic and cultural affairs, that money and literature and poetry, are much more closely linked than many people believe. We should recall that writing came into being in Sumer, the cradle of civilisation between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, 6,000 years ago. Sumer's administrators made a record of everyday items, of quantities, of transactions, on clay tablets. By recording these economic activities, these "proto-accountants" created the first documents in human history and paved the way for all of the world's written literature.
There is a relationship between poetry and money which has always struck me. Poems, like gold coins, are meant to last, to keep their integrity, sustained by their rhythm, rhymes and metaphors. In that sense, they are like money – they are a "store of value" over the long term. They are both aspiring to inalterability, whilst they are both destined to circulate from hand to hand and from mind to mind.
Both culture and money, poems and coins belong to the people. Our currency belongs to the people of Europe in a very deep sense: it is their own confidence in their currency which makes it a successful medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. Our culture is the wealth of literature and art that the confidence of the people has decided to preserve over time.
European-ness means being unable to understand my national literature and poetry without understanding Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare. And as the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset wrote in his The Revolt of the Masses in 1930: "If we were to take an inventory of our mental stock today – opinions, standards, desires, assumptions – we should discover that the greater part of it does not come to the Frenchman from France, nor to the Spaniard from Spain, but from the common European stock."
It is no coincidence that the European Central Bank chose European architectural styles to illustrate our banknotes. These architectural styles were born in very different areas of Europe. They provide another powerful illustration of this unique concept of unity within diversity, which is the central trait of our continent.
European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet was speaking at the Centre for Financial Studies in Frankfurt earlier this week