Designing the Euro banknotes  Share

Abstract-modern design series by Roger Pfund

The fiduciary euro was first introduced in the euro area on 1 January 2002. On that day, 305 million Europeans from twelve countries were able to start using the new euro-denominated banknotes and coins. The last stage in setting up the Economic and Monetary Union had thus been reached and, since then, five more nations have joined the euro area. Today, more than nine years after €-Day, when the fiduciary euro was put into circulation, the design of euro banknotes has been is only of secondary importance. But deciding what the new banknotes should look like was actually a very long drawn-out process.

Protection against counterfeiting is the main factor that has to be taken into consideration when designing a banknote. The note also has to look attractive. So, the challenge lies in combining the security features with artistic creativity. As early as 1992, a working group set up by the Committee of central bank governors got to work on preparing the design of the euro banknotes. All the members of this the working group had agreed that the illustrations on the notes had to avoid any national or gender biais. Furthermore, the banknotes had to represent the valuers of openness and collaboration that the European countries want to promote, in both their relations with each other and with the rest of the world.

In November 1994, the Council of the European Monetary Institute (EMI), the forerunner of the European Central Bank (ECB), asked the Banknote Working Group to submit a series of proposals on the themes that could illustrate the euro banknotes. In close collaboration with experts in history (of art), psychology and graphic design, this working group proposed eighteen neutral themes, including European flora and fauna, common legends and myths, the founding fathers of Europe, etc. Out of these eighteen themes, three were finally proposed to the Council of the EMI: “Architectural ages and styles of Europe”, “Abstract-modern design” and “Heritage of Europe”.

When the euro banknote design competition started in 1996, the candidates were only given a choice between the first two themes. If the designers opted for the Architectural ages and styles of Europe theme, they had to represent a certain historical period on each banknote by using an architectural feature. The banknotes were attributed the followings eras: Classical (Greek and Roman) for the 5 euro note, Romanesque pour celui de 10 euros, le gothique pour celui de 20 euros, the Renaissance for the 50 euros, Baroque and rococo for the 100 euros, the age of iron and glass for the 200 euros and modern 20th century architecture for the 500 euro note. The banknotes taking up the “Abstract-modern” theme had to display a contemporary or modern design with abstract and figurative elements.

Abstract-modern design series by Maryke Degryse

The Council of the EMI also decided on the colours and the dimensions of the different notes, as well as the wording appearing on the notes. These words were limited to the name of the currency unit, in both the Latin and the Greek alphabets, and the initials of the European Central Bank in the five linguistic variants: BCE-ECB-EZB-EKT-EKP. The signature of the president of the ECB had to feature close to these initials. In addition, the value of the banknote had to be given at least twice on each side of the note, and the twelve stars, symbolic of the European Union, had to appear on the front and the back.

Only designers selected by the central bank governors could take part in the design competition. All the central banks, with the exception of Denmark’s, chose the artists, with each bank being able to designate up to three. They were given seven months to send in sketches for the seven denominations, either based on one of the two themes or both of them. All in all, by the closing date for the competition, set for 13 September 1996, twenty-nine designers or design teams had submitted forty-four sketches, including twenty-seven projects following the traditional theme and seventeen projects devoted to the modern theme.

Each series of sketches was given a 3-figure code in order to ensure that it remained anonymous and that the selection process remained impartial. A jury made up of independent experts in marketing, design and history of art assessed the sketches and drew up a short list of the five best series of designs for each theme. According to the jury, the best drawings were:

  • Abstract & Modern: Klaus Michel & Sanne Jünger, Roger Pfund, Robert Kalina, Maryke Degryse (Belgique), Terry Thorn;
  • Ages and styles: Yves Zimmerman, Robert Kalina, Ernst & Lorli Jünger, Inge Madlé, Daniel & Johanna Bruun

Through an institute that specialises in market research, these ten series were shown to more than 2,000 people living in countries that would probably join the euro area. Those polled had to answer about thirty questions. At first glance, all the designs were perceived by this cross-section of the public as banknotes, with the exception of the series by Roger Pfund and the modern series presented by Jünger’s team, as these two series looked more like works of art. The series drawn by Belgian designer Maryke Degryse got the highest number of votes in favour (35%) in an opinion poll. Even though only 23% of the people questioned said they preferred Robert Kalina’s traditional style of drawing, the majority of them (76%) felt that his banknotes better expressed the “European” idea.

Robert Kalina

From the jury’s point of view, the most importnt thing was that the banknotes had a European look. So, once the ranking established by the jury was combined with the results of the public opinion poll, the design by Robert Kalina was judged to be the best. With the help of stylistic abstractions of existing monuments, the series on European architectural styles by this Austrian designer was artistically representative of the common cultural heritage of all the Member States of the European Union.

Euro banknote production began in July 1999. At the end of 2001, more than 15 billion banknotes had already been printed by fifteen different printing works. On 1 January 2002, the euro notes designed by Robert Kalina could be used for the first time as a means of payment.


Greet de Lathauwer,
Museum Guide


  • Euro Banknote Design Exhibition, European Central Bank, Frankfurt, 2003, 101 p.
  • How the euro became our money. A short story of euro banknotes and coins, European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, 2007 (consulted on 15/03/2011).
  • Brion, R. & Moreau, J.-L., Le billet dans tous ses états. Du premier papier-monnaie à l’euro, Bruxelles, Fonds Mercator, 2011, 168 p.

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