The European Central Bank (ECB) is searching for new designs for the next series of euro banknotes and is looking for inspiration towards European citizens. Everybody can give their opinion through a survey about seven ‘European’ themes, including cultural heritage. But what if the EU already has a possible solution in stock, without them even knowing: the European Heritage Label sites?
The themes where citizens can give their opinions about all reflect the ‘idea of Europe’. ECB President Christine Lagarde encourages everyone to join the survey, which is open until 31 August 2023. “The design of euro banknotes should reflect our shared European identity”, she said in a press release. “That’s why we want Europeans to have a say in selecting the new theme.” Citizens can indicate whether they (dis)like design ideas and why through the survey.
The themes are:
Birds: Symbolizing freedom of movement and connection
European Culture: Celebrating Europe’s rich cultural heritage and its role in promoting shared values.
European Values Mirrored in Nature: Linking European values to protecting the environment.
The Future is Yours: Showing the limitless possibilities for the future of Europe.
Hands: Representing the important role that hands have played in building Europe.
Our Europe, Ourselves: Highlighting individual and collective identities within the European community.
Rivers: Symbolizing the connectivity and dynamic nature of Europe’s rivers.
Europe as an idea
People working with cultural heritage know better than anyone else how cultural or natural heritage can represent ideals or ideas. It shows that the ECB has this understanding as well since the survey notes that ‘Europe is not just a place, but an idea’. European institutions are keen on this idea as they tried to put it into practice in the past. For example the foundation of the European Heritage Label (EHL) in 2013. These sites represent material and immaterial sites that have a significant value for European history and the values the EU represents.
So picking European heritage as a symbol for common European values fits Europe’s strategy well. The survey mentions that possible designs ‘could depict monuments, artworks, literature, music or science and their makers.’
But that leaves the question: which heritage does reflect European culture best? Cultural heritage is often a source of national pride or symbolism, meaning that there could be competition to decide which heritage is picked on which banknote. And some countries won’t be happy with the placement of a national symbol on banknotes. And since there are only 12 banknotes that need a design, there is limited space meaning some countries won’t be present on the notes at all.
A solution might have already presented itself: the abstraction of certain heritage, which is done on the current euro banknotes. These feature different stylised architectural styles and buildings in Europe from different ages. There’s not one specific bridge featured, but a representation of different types of bridges and buildings one can find in Europe. That way imagery is not tied to certain national heritage.
The EU might have another solution for a new design already in stock, without them even knowing: the European Heritage Label sites. It’s definitely not the first time the EU is looking to promote and broaden the credo of ‘Europe is not just a place, but an idea’, and this list has a similar goal in mind: ‘these sites celebrate and symbolise European ideals, values, history and integration.’ Sounds familiar, right? Therefore these sites would be good representatives of the European idea and dimension the ECB hopes to create.
Spotlight on EHL?
There are also plenty of designs to choose from: the European selection panel awarded the European Heritage Label to 60 sites in 22 countries. These sites can also be immaterial, for example, the Treaty of Maastricht – the foundation treaty of the EU in 1992. And while these sites are of course situated or tied to a certain country, the EHL is awarded to put an emphasis on the European dimension of certain heritage: the international role of the Peace Palace in The Hague, the village of Schengen in Luxemburg (yes, from the treaty), or Javorca Memorial church in Slovenia (built by WWII soldiers to remember fallen soldiers regardless of their origin and culture.)
And while the Peace Palace might ring a bell in the back of the minds of a few people, the village of Schengen of the Javorca church are not well-known amongst European citizens. And the EU knows that as well, hence why they published a call for the support of the implementation of the EHL, giving the label and its sites more visibility and renown amongst Europeans. What better way to start than to put EHL sites on banknotes that are used every day by millions?