You can be forgiven for not knowing how the European Union functions, since few outside Brussels have a clue. Despite living in France, I only recently learned that every six months a different country becomes responsible for the functioning of the Council of the European Union, the upper house of the EU legislature. But wait, it gets more interesting! According to Wikipedia, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity, three successive presidencies, known as presidency trios, cooperate for an 18-month period to provide continuity by sharing common political programmes. And when it comes to bureaucracy, continuity is Job One.
Okay, that was boring, I admit. But what's interesting is how each member country chooses to brand itself for its six months of fame. The most recent is Greece, which came up with not only a new logo but a video to sing its we're-not-bankrupt-yet virtues. I've included that and some recent logos below, along with the justification for these sometimes baffling efforts, using the actual words of the member countries. While there are some hits, a low point was the crowd-sourced effort that Belgium, Spain and Hungary came up with. No disrespect to the Belgian student responsible for the feeble design (which no doubt saved the three countries significant euros) but the following countries were no doubt wise to come up with a more powerful, targeted branding strategy.
Greece: July-December 2013
The Greek Presidency logo is austere and concise, extending a note of realistic optimism. It depicts a sailboat in full sail, formed by the initials of the European Union. It aspires to unite common European values and Greece’s unique identity, the beginning of the continent’s union and its future course, the solid principles that formed our past with our common aspirations for the future.
The symbolic background of the logo is the sea: a fundamental element of Greek identity, but also a pivotal component of Europe’s past and future. The sea has historically united people and is nowadays a generator of growth and jobs across Europe thus, forming a horizontal thematic running through the Greek Presidency’s priorities. Against this background, the individual motifs forming the logo illustrate the Greek land’s indented terrain and coastline, while the “semicircle” represents the Parliament and the ancient theatre, cradles of Europe’s democratic traditions, institutional equality and our common cultural heritage.
The sailboat is at the forefront of the logo’s narrative power: a symbol of exploration and transition, but also of communication and unity. As such, it aspires to relay our decision to sail together towards a common future overcoming hardships and storms.
Lithuania: July-December 2013
The circle representing the logo of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU is a symbol of unity, representing that Lithuania will be an honest mediator seeking to harmonise differing positions. The logo refers to the united EU, the countries of which want to and can work together, foster European values, and can overcome all the challenges that arise. The colours of the logo symbolise Lithuania's close relations with the Baltic and the Nordic regions, while the blue bow of the EU flag represents the universally shared values and activities. The garland of the Lithuanian national flag’s colours – yellow, green, and red – completes the logo circle. This link symbolises the responsibility for the Presidency of the Council of the EU that is trusted to Lithuania in the second half of 2013.
Ireland: January-June 2013
Ireland’s logo for 2013 was selected by the Irish public in an on-line poll. It weaves four letter ‘e’s (representing European Union members) into one, unified shape. Each ‘e’ is linked to and works in harmony with the others. The four ‘e’s also represent the four decades of Ireland’s EU membership (1 January 2013 marks our 40th anniversary). The circular forms reflect the rotating nature of the Presidency. The overall shape is reminiscent of a traditional Celtic spiral and knotwork motif.
Cyprus: July-December 2012
The ship, which embodies the island character of Cyprus and its long maritime tradition, hoists the sails and steers for a new journey having as destination the heart of Europe, carrying with it the spirit and enthusiasm for the first Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU. While sailing, it becomes a bird, the universal symbol of peace and the herald of the message the Cyprus Presidency wishes to share: the vision for a ‘Better Europe'.
The ship, painted in the blue colour of the European flag, sails towards a ‘Better Europe', a Europe dedicated to the fundamental principle of solidarity and one which is in a position to face more effectively the challenges of today and ensure the cohesion of the European edifice. A Better Europe, more hospitable, which offers more to its citizens and neighbours.
On the upper side of the ship/bird three sails are hoisted, the copper and green, colours inspired by the Cyprus flag and the sun-bathed and dotted with olive trees copper producing land of Cyprus. The third colour is the blue of the sea and the clear friendly sky, which provides cover for the harmonious co-existence of peoples, and also between man and the environment, in a place profoundly and truly hospitable.
Denmark: January-June 2012
The transfer of the Presidency is illustrated through the double symbolism between the numbers 1 and 2, which both illustrates that Denmark is now assuming the Presidency and signals the six months’ duration of the Presidency. The logo also signals the dynamic that exists in EU cooperation – cooperation that is constantly changing and being renewed. Thus, the logo also signals that development in and around Europe is not standing still and that we need to work to renew and expand the cooperation in Europe so that it can handle the challenges of the future. Finally, the logo also signals openness and cooperation – values that are crucial for a successful Presidency. The logo highlights the Danish colours, red and white, and at the same time emphasises one of the Danish strengths in Europe and the world, the Danish tradition for design.
Poland: July-December 2011
31 years ago – during the August Strikes in 1980 – Jerzy Janiszewski designed the well-known “Solidarność” logo which was to become a historic symbol of the Polish road to freedom and democratic changes in Central Europe. The brush-painted inscription ran around the entire world, becoming one of the most famous graphic symbols in the global culture. The Polish government wants the Presidency’s logo to refer directly to the great, historic tradition of “Solidarność”. It will be quite symbolic and adequate to the significance of Poland holding its first EU Presidency.
Hungary: January-June 2011
Belgium: July-December 2010
The logo of the Belgian presidency is the result of an international competition. Students in art and design from Spain, Belgium and Hungary were able to take part in this contest. These countries assume the successive presidency of the European Union from 1 January 2010 until 30 June 2011. The logo, which was selected by a panel of experts, is the work of a young Belgian student.
The dynamism of these three countries is symbolised by the fine cursive letters "eu" of the logo. They appear to be handwritten in order to invite all citizens to take ownership of the European project. Each version of the logo assumes the colours of the country's flag, but the addition of the word “trio” as an exponent denotes the solidarity between the three countries.
Spain: January-June 2010
Sweden: July-December 2009
Openness, dialogue, that Sweden belongs to the core of the EU; light, midnight sun, the Nordic light. A sign that we have nothing to hide.