Design ideas for new euro paper bills reflect values and nature

Themes show the difficulty of representing all of Europe on banknotes

Today's expression: In-depth
Explore more: Lesson #612
October 2, 2023:

The European Central Bank has identified seven possible design themes for the redesign of its paper bills. Now, European citizens have their say on which theme comes out on top. The themes include birds, rivers, values, hands, and portraits (among others), but all struggle to reflect the full diversity of Europe.

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Here are the seven designs that could be on the new euro

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where you can expand your horizons and learn more English with our stories each and every Monday and Thursday.

Today’s story is about the new European banknotes. The euro paper currency hasn’t changed since its debut over twenty years ago. You heard about that on Thursday . Today, I’ll tell you about the seven proposed design themes—and we can see which one we like the best.

In the second half of today’s lesson, I’ll show you how to use the English phrase “in-depth.” We have a quote of the week. And the video lesson will show you how to talk about a subset of a larger group.

The video lesson and exercises for today are all at PlainEnglish.com/612. That’s because this is lesson number 612. I think we’re ready to get going.

Seven design themes for new euro banknotes

Last Thursday, you learned that the ECB, the European Central Bank, has begun the process of redesigning the euro banknotes . But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

The ECB has identified seven possible themes for the new design. Citizens of the euro area were able to vote on the designs in an online survey in August. Now, the ECB will be doing in-depth surveys and they’ll announce the winning theme in 2024.

It will be years before the new designs are finalized and printed. But here are the seven candidate themes. I’ll withhold my judgment until the end.

First, “European values mirrored in nature.” The Treaty of Lisbon is the last of three treaties that form the constitutional basis of Europe, and the treaty enumerates six foundational values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and human rights. This theme, “European values mirrored in nature,” would use imagery from nature and the environment to depict those six values.

Of the seven themes, this is the most political because it’s directly related to a treaty that binds the E.U. together. But it’s also extremely abstract. It will be a challenge for designers to use “nature” to depict something like “rule of law,” all in a design that can fit on a paper bill.

The next possible theme is “birds.” There are hundreds of species of birds that are native to Europe. Birds fly across the continent without any concern for national boundaries. As the E.U. says, they “enrich the world without depleting it.”

Birds are easy to depict on a banknote. But when you think of Europe, do you think of birds? When you think of Bermuda, you might think of tropical birds, so it makes sense that there are three birds on Bermuda’s currency. I’m not so sure birds truly represent Europe.

The ECB also notes, with grave concern, that some people suffer from ornithophobia, or the fear of birds, so this banknote design may not be fully inclusive.

Third: “The future is yours.” This theme would include portraits, not of people that lived in the past, not of people living in the present, but composite portraits of people who may live in the future. These portraits would represent dreams and aspirations of Europeans. This one is highly abstract. And it would be hard to represent, in a design, what the future should look like. What’s more , not everyone has the same dreams and aspirations, so it might be hard to find consensus on specific designs.

Fourth: rivers. Like birds, rivers cross European country boundaries: the Rhine, the Loire, the Danube. Rivers are part of the environment, which is a European value. Like birds, this seems like a safe compromise. Rivers could be shown crossing borders, winding through mountains, passing by towns. Like birds, though, I don’t think rivers are a convincing symbol of Europe.

The fifth design is hands. Hands can depict people working together, constructing things, creating art and literature, and forming bonds. The ECB notes that this design could “celebrate the hands that have built Europe and continue to do so.”

The sixth potential design is “Our Europe, ourselves.” This design would represent the living experience of Europe through six dimensions: being, doing, thinking, loving, communicating, and living.

These six themes were proposed by a group commissioned to study the next currency design. I don’t know if I like any of these. Maybe I suffer from a lack of imagination. But I don’t think you can design a banknote that depicts “thinking” or “being.”

Hands just seems creepy. I don’t want to touch the hand of a stranger when I reach into my wallet. Would the hands be attached to a wrist? The rest of a body? Similarly, the portrait of a future person living out European dreams seems risky.

I do not have a vote or a voice in the new design. But if I had to pick among these six, I would vote for the rivers or the “European values mirrored in nature.” Both, though, leave me unsatisfied, at least the way they were described.

The ECB’s Governing Council intervened and—possibly—saved the day by introducing a seventh potential theme: European culture. They added this seventh possibility to the six themes created by the study group. And this theme, European culture, this would honor Europe’s cultural heritage and history. This is closest to the “windows and bridges” theme on the current banknotes. It’s the most traditional, the most conservative option.

True, there would have to be some hard negotiations about which cultural symbols are chosen for the banknotes. But I think this design is the only one worthy of being on the euro currency.

The seven themes—the six original ones, plus the European culture theme—they were part of the advisory survey that citizens took in August. We’ll know early next year which theme the ECB chose.


Like I said, the Plain English community was not consulted on the potential design of the banknotes. But that shouldn’t stop us from expressing our opinions anyway! So there are two chances for you to make your voice heard.

First, I’m going to make this a poll question in the next e-mail that comes out. So today’s Monday, October 2. In JR’s lesson e-mail on Thursday, October 5, we’ll ask you which design you like best. And you just click on the one you like, and your vote will be registered. We’ll say which one the Plain English community likes later. I’ll also send the results in an e-mail to Christine Lagarde, the ECB president. Let’s see if she responds!

I’ll also put this as a poll question in the Plain English Facebook group .

But to make your voice count—to make Plain English’s voice count—you need to be on the e-mail list. So if you’re not yet getting the Plain English e-mails, then go to PlainEnglish.com/mail and sign up. Then, watch for JR’s e-mail on Thursday morning, October 5. PlainEnglish.com/mail .

Quote of the Week

It’s time for a quote of the week. Here is Franz Werfel. He was an Austrian novelist and playwright. He said, “Between too early and too late, there is never more than a moment.” This talks about the power of good timing. “Between too early and too late, there is never more than a moment,” says Franz Werfel, the Austrian novelist and playwright.

Well the time is right for us to learn a new English expression and that, today, is “in-depth.”

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Expression: In-depth