In January 2022, Italy celebrated two milestones in its history: The Italian flag turned 225 years, and the use of the Euro for Italy and the rest of the European Union turned 20 years. The first represents the growth of Italy as a sovereign nation; the second represents Italy as one of the founding members of the European Union.
The Flag. The most widespread explanation of the origin of the colors of the Italian tricolore flag are that the green represents the plains, the white calls to mind the Alps and the Apennines, and the red symbolizes the blood of the victims of wars. The flag has a complex and, at times, a troubled past. The three colors combined actually made their first appearance 228 years ago in 1794 thanks to two students from the University of Bologna. Inspired by the human rights proclaimed during the French Revolution, they led an insurrection and distributed tricolore cockades to their followers. They chose white and red as the colors of Bologna and Asti and added green as a symbol of hope. However, the insurrection failed.
The three colors next appeared in 1797 in Reggio Emilia as republics were establishing themselves throughout the peninsula. The banners in Lombardy also reflected the same colors—red and white referred to the ancient municipal coat of arms of Milan (red cross on a white field), and green was the color of the uniforms of the Milanese Civic Guard. In the mid 1800s the tricolor flag became the symbol of freedom in uprisings in the name of unity. In 1848 if officially became the flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The version at the time had the Savoy coat of arms in the center surrounded by blue to prevent the Savoy cross from becoming lost on the white background.
After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the tricolore became the official flag. Legislative recognition came in 1925, which required that, in addition to the three colors, the banner must have the emblem of the royal crown in the center. Then in January 1948, the Italian Constitution designates the flag of the Republic to be “green, white and red, in three vertical bands of equal size.” It excludes the Savoy coat of arms and marks the official election of the tricolor flag as a symbol of the new republican Italy.
Since 1997, January 7 has officially become the Giornata del Tricolore to celebrate the bicentenary of its birth.
The Euro. On January 1, 2002, euro banknotes and coins were introduced into circulation in 12 European countries. They quickly replaced Italian lire, French francs and German marks in purses, wallets and ATMs. Shop customers who paid in the old currencies received change in euros under fixed exchange rates. Citizens from Lisbon to Helsinki to Athens could travel among the 12 countries without exchanging currency.
Predictions of a catastrophe never materialized. In fact, the euro has become one of the most tangible achievements of European integration. It is the world’s second most widely used currency; it remains quite popular with an 80% approval rating and a current membership of 19 countries, and growing.
Yet, the euro has undergone several crises in the last 20 years, but each has been confronted and has made the euro and European unity stronger. For example, there was the crisis over government and bank debt between 2011 and 2015; Mario Draghi, who was head of the European Central Bank at the time, helped to end the turbulence. During the pandemic, the central bank set up a bond purchase program to keep borrowing costs low for struggling companies. Also, in response to the pandemic, governments in the union agreed to borrow money together to set up a recovery fund to finance projects to fight climate change.
There are still many goals ahead, including work on a digital form of the currency. The European banking system is seeking new opportunities for economic recovery and growth and ways to invest more sustainably in people, infrastructure and institutions. Early crises enabled the euro to mature and fulfill an international role. One has every reason to believe that the current challenges will also strengthen unity and growth.