Imaginary bridges. Gothic windows that don’t exist. Neoclassical arches invented … When launching the euro twenty years ago, its founders preferred to stick to theoretical symbols to decorate banknotes. To avoid battles between countries, and ego bickering, no existing monument or great famous person has been retained. Instead, bridges, windows and doors, as symbols of unity and openness, were invented. For the record, the initial graphics of the bridges looked too much like real bridges, including that of Normandy for the 500 euro banknote, and they had to be modified so that they really became “fake” bridges.
For its twentieth anniversary – the single currency was created on 1is January 1999, but the banknotes and coins were put into circulation on 1is January 2002 – the euro wants to reinvent its banknotes. ” It’s time [d’en] review the appearance so that Europeans of all ages and from all walks of life can more easily identify with it ”, believes Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB). Fabio Panetta, member of the ECB’s executive board, mentions banknotes that “Europeans will be proud to use as currency”.
While cash is gradually being replaced by bank cards and dematerialized transfers, it remains in the majority. Across the euro zone, 73% of payments were made in this way in 2019. The pandemic will have accelerated the decline in its use, but banknotes are far from having disappeared and their symbolism remains strong.
Public consultation and design competition
The matter is therefore not taken lightly, and the ECB is launching for the occasion a very long process until 2024, with many committees and sub-committees, to invent the new banknotes. The work begins with the reflection of a consultancy group, created for the occasion. It has nineteen members – one from each country – appointed by each national central bank. There are artists, an archeology professor, a historian, designers… The Banque de France has chosen Stéphane Distinguin, the boss of the Fabernovel marketing firm.
This advisory group is only called upon to choose the main themes that will be used to illustrate the posts. Should we continue with “ages and styles”, the deliberately vague theme chosen two decades ago, which gave birth to doors, windows and bridges? Or is it time to get into the real world? To use the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum or the Brandenburg Gate? Marie Curie, Erasmus or Michelangelo? Or the founders of the European Union, from Jean Monnet to Konrad Adenauer via Simone Veil?
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For its twentieth anniversary, the euro wants to reinvent its banknotes