The European Union is changing. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the EU was similar to the United Nations or the NATO alliance – people knew it existed, but they had limited contact with it and the EU didn’t dominate public discussions. But in recent years, various challenges to the EU have changed this. As a result of various political, economic, and social challenges, the EU has started transforming from a distant political project which most people didn’t think about much into an issue which sharply divides Europeans. Across the EU27, support for the EU has grown but politicians and parties which are hostile to the EU have also gained popularity. For tens of millions of people the EU has become either a symbol of progress and peace which must be defended, or a symbol of corruption and despotism which must be ended.
The EU is now a part of everyday life for more than 500 million people, and the fundamental questions at the heart of Europe is now being asked: What is “Europe”? Where is “Europe”? Who is “European”? And what does it mean to be a “European”?
Currency conveys an ideological message, and currency is fundamentally political. The designs of banknotes and coins express what it means to be a part of that society, and they advertise a society by displaying its architecture, its heroes, and important events and people who created that society. Banknotes and coins symbolise what it means to belong to that community. But do the EU’s symbols still do this? Did they ever? The question of what it means to be “European” is more important now than ever, and symbols are a very important part of this.
Europe is changing, and its symbols must change with it.