Banknotes and coins

The creation and design process

The new currency was named the euro by the European Council at its 1995 meeting in Madrid.

One of the first tasks to be tackled was to determine the number and face values of the new banknotes and coins. In 1995 the Council of the European Monetary Institute (EMI) agreed that the largest denomination coin would be two euros, and the smallest denomination banknote would be five euros. A simple series of values was sought (1, 2, 5), for both banknotes and coins, to make it easy for citizens to deal with. That is how it was decided that Europeans would exchange their national currencies for eight coins with values ranging from one cent and two euros and seven banknotes ranging from five to 500 euros.

Once the denominations had been established, the design process was set in motion to obtain a set of banknotes and coins which, as well as representing the essence of the European Union (EU), would be capable of generating a sense of identity in more than 300 million citizens with very different histories, realities and expectations.

The design theme: ages and styles of Europe

The EMI, advised by a committee of experts in graphic design, psychology and history, chose the ages and styles of Europe as the basic design theme. They were to represent the main artistic periods in Europe's cultural history: Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, the age of iron and glass and modern 20th century architecture.

Sketches entered for the competition also had to meet a number of technical conditions to enable them to be printed and ensure protection against counterfeiting, for which they had to include advanced security features such as watermarks, security threads, intaglio print, holograms and iridescent inks.

The designers also had to take account of the recommendations of the European Blind Union: banknotes of different sizes, contrasting colours for the denominations closest to one another, inclusion of the face value in a clear and easily legible manner and certain features detectable by touch.

In December 1996, the Council of the EMI announced the winner: the designer Robert Kalina, presented by the Österreichische Nationalbank, the Austrian Central Bank. The main motifs of the winning design were doors and windows on the obverse, symbolising the EU's spirit of openness, and bridges on the Reverse, a metaphor for co-operation and communication between European peoples and the rest of the world. The banknotes also included a map of Europe, with its overseas islands and territories, and the twelve stars of the EU.

The monuments represented on the banknotes are composed of characteristic features of each artistic period, which are familiar to all citizens but cannot be associated with any one country in particular.

In June 1997 the Council of the EMI approved and announced the final designs.