After WWII, Western Europe has created stronger economic and political ties with its neighbors to reduce the chances of military conflict and also to strengthen the entire region economically versus global competitors. In 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed to reduce trade barriers and create a single trade zone. In 1985, the Schengen agreement created a single travel zone across much of Western Europe. But no other agreement has had the impact equal to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 where most countries committed to economic convergence, a single currency and ultimately a supernational government structure. The European Community (EC) has had its ups and downs, and has been a significant discussion topic due to Brexit- the British exit from the European Community.
Origin of the European Union
A single economic zone needs a single currency. A Belgian teacher is credited with coining the term ‘Euro’. In 1996, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) opened a competition for the new currency. In December 1996, Robert Kalina, banknote designer from the Austrian National Bank won the competition. His design followed one of the recommended concepts of “Ages and Styles of Europe”. One can see the similarity in the Euro designs and overall layout to Kalina’s prior work at OeBN. There is a book that shows his work and ideas. It is recommendation for anyone who has interests in banknote designing history. You can find the book here.
The Euro design had a unique challenge. Nearly every country had its own national printer with its unique capabilities. While many had the same general printing approach, France had a different set up. So the banknotes had to be printable by all state printing works. Most countries had its own paper and some security features. Which ones do you choose? Any, probably most importantly, 300 million people have to accept it and have faith in it. It was unlikely that banknotes with portraits of people would be accepted as they might not represent all of the people. Kalina chose to use windows and doorways on the front of the banknotes to symbolize the spirit and openness of the new Europe. Also the back of each banknote features a bridge from seven periods in European history. The bridges are a metaphor for collaboration between the people of Europe.
The denominations of the first series are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euros. Each one varies by color and size. While the doors and bridges are different, humans are not attuned to recognize architectural features like we can differentiate faces. Color, size, holographic features, large numbers and color shifting inks became even more critical to help the average citizen recognize the banknotes and counterfeits. The European Central Bank also spent a lot of energy and money on public education.
Is there a favorite Euro note? Design wise they are all too similar and boring (sorry). However, what is not boring is holding a 500 Euro note. It is big. It is purple. And it’s a piece of paper worth over $500! It is hard to beat that.