The European Central Bank (ECB) unveiled seven design ideas to replace the euro’s historic “windows and bridges” theme in the upcoming banknote revamp. Europeans and others have until the end of August to vote on their favorite themes before the winner goes to the drawing board.
The shortlist of final contenders, made public on Monday, July 10th, was carefully curated by the ECB to represent certain aspects of a “shared European identity.” Accordingly, most of the seven themes focus on more abstract elements of Europeanness than the classical architecture we’ve been used to in the past two decades, such as democracy, inclusivity, and the rule of law.
According to the official rationale, changing the design is not the primary reason behind reforming the banknotes, but to make the euro “more secure, efficient, and sustainable.” Incidentally, this provides the ECB with an opportunity to replace the design elements that represent European culture and history with something more fitting for our ‘vibrant age.’
From the outset, only one of the design ideas focuses on cultural heritage. The rest either pander to our individualistic and inflated sense of self-importance through vaguely defined European ‘values’ or pick comfortably neutral topics, such as landscapes or animals.
So far, the ECB only made short descriptions of the seven themes available, without any graphic designs available at the time. The first sketches are expected to be released only after the Central Bank—assisted by the European public—selected the final theme in a few months.
Here are the seven themes that could eventually end up on the new euro banknotes in a few years:
- Birds: free and resilient. Birds are symbols of free movement, and therefore, of the lack of internal borders of the European Union. Expect a different native species to appear on every banknote, surrounded by corresponding scenery. This theme was also among the finalists of the last design contest 20 years ago, and only narrowly lost to the current one. Incidentally, it might be ECB President Christine Lagarde’s personal favorite, who once famously compared herself to a wise owl.
- Rivers: waters of life. Rivers cross borders and connect nations, while also representing a precious resource. These banknotes could show sections of rivers flowing through borders, mountains, cities, or into the sea.
- Values and nature. The theme would combine symbols depicting fundamental values of the EU (democracy, equality, rule of law, human rights, etc.) with European natural landscapes. Example: a voting hand and a sandy beach, “where every grain of sand matters.”
- The future is yours: this design would depict silhouettes of ordinary EU citizens, who represent the “bearers of the collective imagination” shaping our future, combined with images related to different scientific fields and occupations.
- Hands that build Europe. The idea is that everybody has hands, but they are all different. So, to represent European unity and diversity at once, images of hands would tell “stories of labor, age, and relationships,” as well as values like the rule of law (hand holding a scale, for instance).
- Our Europe, ourselves. This theme focuses on the individual through six personal yet shared activities or experiences: being, doing, thinking, loving, communicating, and living. Each is also assigned a European value. Communication (and freedom of speech), for instance, would be a human mouth.
- European culture. Elements of the continent’s rich cultural heritage represent a shared sense of belonging. This one is the closest to the original “windows and bridges” theme, but instead of architecture, it would depict famous artworks, monuments, music, and literature, along with the corresponding artists. Seems by far the most reasonable choice from a conservative point of view, which is why I suspect the ECB will not pick it.
Bear in mind that this survey is merely to consult the European public, not to give them the final choice. It will stay open until August 31, after which the ECB promised to announce its pick by the end of the year. The next phase will include another survey about concrete design options within the selected theme. The final decision, however, is only expected to be made in 2026, with no date set for the rollout of new banknotes yet.