Paper Money

Euro note designer speaks out on planned changes

The designer of the original euro bank notes voices concern that abandoning the concept of anonymous designs will result in designs with national themes.

Images courtesy of European Central Bank.

The European Central Bank’s decision, announced Dec. 6, to redesign its euro bank notes by 2024 did not meet with the approval of the designer of the current notes.

Robert Kalina was concerned enough about it that he caught the attention of Jean-Philippe Lacour at Agence France Presse, who disseminated his skepticism widely.

Kalina is now retired, but 26 years ago he won the competition to design the original euro currency. At the time he was a graphic designer for the Austrian National Bank. He rigorously adhered to the mandate that the new currency had to be identical in all countries and avoid “national bias.”

He told AFP that he had to come up with images that everyone could identify with but that showed no national favoritism. “Portraits might have been allowed,” he told the news service, “but only if the faces were anonymous. I excluded that option right away.” 

That’s how he decided on architecture, with bridges on one side of the notes, and windows and doors on the other. He still stands by that concept and feels that a redesign could once again inflame jealousy and national rivalries.

He wonders if by now people will accept the portrayal of famous individuals regardless of nationality, but remains unsure. Ever the designer, he has a possible solution — the world of music, since, he says, “Great composers like Beethoven or Mozart can’t be reduced to a single country. Music is a language that doesn’t require words and one that everyone can understand.”

The process could well turn into a frenzy. Already, Die Welt, the German national daily, wrote in its Jan. 1 edition that Moritz Körner, a member of the European Parliament, suggests that Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, a still-living married couple in Germany of Turkish descent and founders of BioNTech, who developed a COVID-19 vaccine, be depicted on one of the new notes.

When the physical euro was introduced Jan. 1, 2002, it was used in 12 countries. Today it is used by 340 million people in 19 countries, and it is considered the second most important currency in the world. There are now 27.4 billion euro bank notes in circulation, having a value totaling about €1.5 trillion.

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