Now other European communities hope to replicate its success.

Inspired to bring Basque pride back to the region, in 2013 Edme-Sanjurjo and about a dozen volunteers launched a euro-equivalent micro-currency. Their aim was to reinvigorate enthusiasm for their cultural and linguistic roots and keep money within the French-Basque region by supporting local businesses.

Flash forward to October 2018, and their micro-currency, coined the eusko (pronounced ‘you-s-ko’), reached the equivalent of €1 million in circulation, making it the most successful of such monetary experiments in Europe.

Today, 17 municipal governments and 820 local shops, businesses and associations in the French Basque Country accept the eusko as legal tender. 

Euskal Moneta – the organisation headed by Edme-Sanjurjo that manages and prints the currency – says two to three new eusko accounts are being opened daily with them.

While the idea of printing your own money might seem radical, the concept of micro-currencies is far from novel. Indeed, Euskal Moneta was inspired by the Chiemgauer, a micro-currency that has been available in Chiemgau region in Upper Bavaria, Germany, since 2003. Today, there are as many as 10,000 to 15,000 micro-currencies operating worldwide, including about 60 in France, which legalised them in 2014.

When eusko online accounts were launched in 2017 – making it the first French local currency to offer both digital and physical notes, according to Edme-Sanjurjo – the pace of adoption accelerated. 

Today, 60,000 eusko are now being exchanged from euro each month, according to Euskal Moneta, which has garnered attention from other European communities hoping to replicate the French Basque’s micro-currency success.

“The Institute of the Circular Economy of Wales is preparing a report for the Welsh Government. The Belgian federation of alternative finance, which supports more than 20 Belgian local currencies, is also in contact with Euskal Moneta. And we are regularly contacted about local currency projects from throughout Spain,” Jean-René Etchegaray, mayor of Bayonne and president of the Basque Municipal Community, told me.

 “At first it [introducing the eusko] was quite difficult,” Edme-Sanjurjo recalled. “Nobody knew about local currencies. But the eusko hit critical mass quickly, achieving a relatively large circulation in the small-size world of micro-currencies. 

“Within the first six months of its launch, the eusko became the most developed local currency in France,” Edme-Sanjurjo recalled.

“About 84% of businesses have never changed eusko [back] to euro. They always find a way to use them with other local eusko businesses,” 

At Poloko Hiriondo Ikastola, Bayonne’s immersive Euskara school, 19 out of 58 families now pay their dues with eusko . . . benefits from the eusko program amount to €1,000 a year, which is put towards buying books, stationery and healthier meals for students.

Christelle Ksouri Perez, owner of L’Ambre Bleu, a shop filled with decorative art pieces . . . began accepting the eusko . . . to “support local merchants and for the redistribution of the local market”. Serge Lamiscarre, the owner of vintage shop Intramuros Bayonne, said, “It creates a community and new links between people”.

The above is excerpted from an article by Justin Calderon for the BBC, April 19 2019.