ECB Press Conference for the opening of the euro banknote design exhibition

Introductory statement by Prof. Eugenio Domingo Solans, Member of the Executive Board and Governing Council of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, 17 September 2003

Ladies and gentlemen, designers and representatives of the banknote printing works, members of the jury,

On 30 August 2001, more than two years ago, I had the honour, together with the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), of unveiling the final design of the euro banknotes and giving details of the security features.

Today, I am very pleased to welcome you to the ECB for the opening of the euro banknote design exhibition. We are displaying here for the first time the 44 entries from the competition, under the themes: the "Ages and styles of Europe" and an "abstract or modern design". At the end of this press conference, you will be among the first to have the opportunity to embark on a journey back to 1996 and enjoy these designs. The exhibition will remain at the ECB for two weeks before going on show to the general public from 8 October 2003 to 10 January 2004 at the Deutsche Bundesbank's Geldmuseum. It will then tour several other central banks in Europe. I am happy to announce that thanks to the European Commission, you will also have the opportunity in a moment to look at the various design proposals submitted for the European side of the euro coins, which were provided by the authorities involved in the national selection process. These constitute part of the European Commission's euro coins genesis exhibition, which was held earlier this year in Brussels, and which will also tour with our banknote design exhibition.

The euro banknotes are used by more than 300 million European citizens in our 12 countries and elsewhere. In the not too distant future, they will also be used in more European countries, as we welcome new members into the euro area. Their contrasting colours, different formats and prominent value numerals make them easy to handle. And it is not us at the ECB who say so, but you and me, as daily users! The smoothness of the euro cash changeover and the high acceptance of the European citizens for their new banknotes and coins in early 2002 already gave us a clear indication of the public's judgement. A survey we conducted shortly after the cash changeover revealed that about two-thirds of interviewees found the euro banknotes attractive. And another survey, conducted by the European Commission in November last year, showed that more than 90% of the interviewed cash users felt that the euro banknotes were easy to distinguish and handle. In this respect, the euro banknotes clearly benefited from the co-operation with the European Blind Union.

Until now the ECB has only given information about the winning design. Since we had to enable 300 million people to become familiar with their new money in a relatively short period of time, we intentionally delayed the publication of the other euro banknote design proposals. I think the surveys I have just mentioned indicate that we made the right decision.

But the design of the euro banknotes, which today looks so familiar to all of us, has a longer history. It was one of the 44 design series submitted to the EMI in the design competition opened from 12 February to 13 September 1996. Each of the 29 designers or design teams which took part in the competition suggested a different interpretation of a European banknote, based either on the theme, the "Ages and styles of Europe", for which 27 proposals were received, or an "abstract or modern design", which inspired 17 proposals. Creativity had to cope with the limitations imposed by the need to cater for the inclusion of various security features, both visible and machine-readable. Furthermore, the designs had to ensure gender equality and avoid national bias. Within this framework, the draft designs depicted a variety of motifs, ranging from abstract patterns to portraits of children, from static buildings to dynamic motion, and from animals to human beings. I do not want to elaborate much more on this since, in a few moments, you will be able to judge the variety of themes and inspirations for yourselves. As with any piece of art, all designs are inspiring, although all of us may have very personal views about their attractiveness.

Selecting the most suitable design for the future euro banknotes was not an easy task. Before the EMI Council selected the winning design, it appointed a jury of renowned experts in the fields of design, communication and art history, to analyse and rank the designs along criteria, such as their functionality, foreseeable acceptability and the special needs of visually impaired users. Public opinion was then gauged on the ten designs shortlisted by the jury, five for each theme. In parallel, the banknote experts of the EMI and the EU national central banks assessed the "printability" and resistance to counterfeiting of the ten pre-selected designs. It was on the basis of all these elements that the EMI Council selected the winning design on 3 December 1996.

The winning design was then shown to the European Council in Dublin on 13 December 1996 and presented to the world the same day at simultaneous press conferences held in Dublin by Baron Alexandre Lamfalussy, President of the EMI, and in Frankfurt by Willem F. Duisenberg, who was appointed his successor, on that same day. Following the selection of the design series submitted by Robert Kalina, some further work had to be done to transform the designs into high-precision banknotes for large-scale production. This implied very close co-operation between Robert Kalina and our banknote experts, and later on between the ECB and both the European Union NCBs and the 15 printing works involved. The timely completion of the production of the more than 15 billion banknotes needed for the euro cash changeover proved that this co-operation had been successful.

Today, more than a year and a half after the introduction of the euro banknotes and coins, time has come to tell the whole story of the birth of the euro banknotes and show to you and the citizens of Europe the other designs that could have become our new money. Before inviting you to visit the exhibition, we stand ready to answer your questions. I would just like to add that I am very pleased that most designers and members of the jury could be with us today. They will also be very happy to answer your questions when visiting the exhibition. I wish you a very enjoyable visit.

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