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France lost the Battle of Waterloo, but it won the war over a commemorative coin

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A man dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte performs during the re-enactment of the departure of the French emperor from the Isle of Elba to the battle of Waterloo, in Portoferraio, Isle of Elba, Italy, on Feb. 21, 2015. (EPA/FABIO MUZZI)

The French may have lost the Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago, but they've won at least one clash over how to commemorate it.

The famous battle in 1815 marked the final defeat of French dynamo Napoleon Bonaparte, his continental ambitions snuffed out by a coalition led by the British and their Prussian allies. It took place near the town of Waterloo, less than 10 miles south of Brussels. A huge artificial hill, dubbed Lion's Mound, stands as a memorial at the site.

To mark the bicentennial of the historic battle, the Belgian government planned to issue a special 2-euro coins depicting the memorial. But French pressure has apparently compelled Belgian authorities to scrap the newly minted commemorative coins.

The French government have objected to a new €2 coin that shows the Lion Hill memorial at.

— [ France News ] (@GoInsideFrance) March 12, 2015

According to the BBC. French officials expressed their disapproval in a letter that indicated the battle was "an event with particular resonance in the European collective memory and went beyond being merely an instance of military conflict." The coins could offend sensibilities when exchanged across the border in France.

Euro banknotes remain generic throughout the euro zone, but each country is allowed to issue its own motifs on coinage,

pending approval from the European Commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union.

French officials argued that "glorifying a time of conflict ran counter to efforts to foster European unity," reports Reuters. The pressure they were willing to exert over the matter through E.U. channels seemed so great that it led Belgium to halt the production of the coins. The Belgian government now has to puzzle over what to do with 180,000 commemorative coins that were already minted and slated to be sold in special boxes as collector's items for 8 euros each.

"I am a bit surprised by all this agitation," Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse. "Europe has plenty of other issues to deal with and challenges to overcome without wasting time and energy on this."

Belgium did not even exist as an independent nation-state at the time of the Battle of Waterloo and would remain part of the Netherlands for another decade longer. Yet it has presided over an ambitious plan to commemorate the battle ahead of June 18, the 200th anniversary.

Meanwhile, Napoleonic nostalgia carries its own currency in France, and has been exploited in the past by politicians of various stripes. The row over the coin is another sign of the considerable national sensitivities that remain in Europe, no matter the dreamy sentiment of those who embrace the E.U. project.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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