Coin collectors eager to get some Vatican euros without the tourist markup may soon be able to thank Brussels for nudging the Holy See to issue some of its money as real money. Nearly all of the euro coins minted every year with the image of Pope Benedict are sold to collectors. They go at the Vatican souvenir shop for 30 euros a set, which is already a tidy markup from their 3.88 euro face value. What’s worse, they can be hard to find, which means many end up on a secondary market where the sets go for multiples of their original sale price. Here’s one on sale on the Internet for 89 euros, another for 99 euros. Prices are probably higher in coin shops.

The European Commission took up this issue last July when it asked the European Central Bank (ECB) for advice on renegotiating the monetary agreement the EU has with the Vatican City State allowing it to use the European currency.  Before the euro was introduced, the world’s smallest state issued its own lira similar to the Italian lira. The Vatican has the right to issue 1,074, 000 euros in coins per year. But, as the Commission noted, it “issues virtually all its circulation coins in collectors’ sets (in the euro area less than 1% of the coins are sold above face value in coin sets).”

eurojp2Ëuro circulation coins are primarily a payment instrument: they should circulate freely in the market and be used for payments. Circulation coins absorbed by coin collectors do not serve their original purpose but are exclusively used as collectors’ items,” it noted.

The ECB recently released its recommendation saying the Vatican should circulate at least 51% of the coins it issues and suggests a joint committee to ensure this and other agreements between Brussels and the Holy See are actually implemented.

So will the Vatican lose out on this tidy little business? No, it seems that someone in Brussels has thought about that as well. The Commission report, which my Frankfurt colleague Sakari Suoninen dug out for me, suggests the Vatican’s quota for issuing coins annually could be almost double to 2,100,000 euros. If that happens, it could continue to issue almost as many collectors’ sets and still circulate over a million euros in coins. Tourists might even get some in change at the souvenir shop.