Symbols of Europe

This article is about pan-European symbols. For a list of national coats of arms, see Coats of arms of Europe. For a list of national flags, see Flags of Europe.
A triumphant European team at the Ryder Cup

A number of symbols of Europe have emerged since antiquity. In present day, each of these may either apply to the continent as a whole, European unity or specifically to the European Union (EU). Several symbols were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s by the Council of Europe (CoE), and while these symbols were intended to represent Europe as a whole, they are often seen as referring to the EU exclusively after their adoption by that organisation. In addition to those of Pan-European identity, the EU has created additional symbols for itself through its integration.


Symbol EU CoE
Flag Yes Yes
Anthem Yes Yes
Motto Yes No
9 May Yes No
5 May No Yes

Pater Europae

Main article: Charlemagne

Charlemagne (Latin: Carolus Magnus; King of the Franks from 768; Holy Roman Emperor c. 742  814), also known as Charles the Great, is considered the founder of the French and German monarchies. Known as Pater Europae («Father of Europe»),[1][2] he established an empire that represented the most expansive European unification since the fall of the Roman Empire and brought about a renaissance that formed a pan-European identity whilst marking the end of the Dark Ages.[1][3] There was also a contemporary intellectual and cultural revival which profoundly marked the history of Western Europe. This gave Charlemagne a legendary standing that transcended his military accomplishments.[1][4][5]

Reliquary, golden bust of Charlemagne wearing the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire in Aachen Cathedral, with the German reichsadler embossed on the metal and the French fleur-de-lis embroidered on the fabric

For many centuries, European royal houses sought to associate themselves with the Carolingian heritage. The crowns of the Holy Roman Empire and Napoleon Bonaparte were for instance both respectively named "The Crown of Charlemagne", and Charlemagne's personal sword, Joyeuse, served as a coronation sword for French kings from the 11th century onwards.[6] The cult of Charlemagne was further embellished by the French renaissance author Jean Lemaire de Belges, who postulated that the emperor was part of an illustrious translatio imperii originating with King Priam of Troy during the Trojan Wars, and thus by extension Zeus, the "Father of Gods and men" in Greek Mythology.

Today, much of the pan-European, symbolic value of Charlemagne is attributed to the fact that he is considered an embodiment of the Franco-German friendship which was absent during the long-lasting enmity which culminated in the two world wars, but has become indispensable in the process of European integration. Thus, in the 1952 design competition for the Council of Europe's flag, several of the unsuccessful proposals were redolent of the Oriflamme; the banner given to Charlemagne by Pope Leo III at his coronation in the St. Peter's Basilica in the year 800.[7][8] Similarities between Charlemagne's empire and the modern European integration were also suggested by professor Hans von Hentig the same year.[9] The European Commission is also alluding to Charlemagne by means of naming one of its central buildings in Brussels after him (The Charlemagne building). The German city of Aachen has since 1949 annually awarded the Charlemagne Prize to champions of European unity, including Alcide De Gasperi, Jean Monnet and the euro itself. Each edition of the international affairs newspaper The Economist features a column called «Charlemagne's notebook», focusing on European Union affairs.[10] In his speech at the award ceremony for the 2010 Charlemagne Youth Prize, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said the following:[11]

Imagine, if you will, the age of Charlemagne, twelve hundred years ago. Already then, he had a vision of a united Europe. Just think how many wars there have been since then and how much European blood has been spilled. We were devoured by hatred. We were in the grip of our emotions. We were unable to think in common. People had a vision of a united Europe then, but did not achieve it. We must remember, my dear young friends, always to keep this vision in mind.

Later monarchs who also have carried sobriquets as "relatives" of Europe include Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (grandmother of Europe), Christian IX of Denmark and Nicholas I of Montenegro (both respectively father-in-law of Europe). These late 19th and early 20th century sobriquets are however purely on account of the marriage of these monarchs' offspring to foreign princes and princesses, and involve no wider symbolism.

Europa regina

Main article: Europa regina
Europa regina in Sebastian Münster's "Cosmographia".

Europa regina (Latin for Queen Europe) is the cartographic depiction of the European continent as a queen.[12][13] Introduced and made popular during the mannerist period, Europa Regina is typically standing upright with the Iberian Peninsula forming her crowned head, and Bohemia her heart, and other European regions shown as a sceptre and a globus cruciger(Sicily).[14]

The first map to depict Europe in this manner was made by Johannes Bucius Aenicola (1516–1542) in 1537.[14][15][15][16] Though much about the origination and initial perception of this map is uncertain,[16] it is known that Putsch maintained close relations with Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg,[16][17] and that the map's popularity increased significantly during the second half of the 16th century.[16] At the time, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had united the lands of the Habsburg's in his hands, including Spain.[17] Thus, the map is oriented westwards to have Spain as the crowned head,[17] pointing at the Habsburgs' claim to be universal emperors of Europe.[18] The most conspicuous reference to the Holy Roman Empire is the Carolingian hoop crown.[18] Another connection to Charles V is the gown, which resembles the contemporary dress code at the Habsburg court, and the face of the queen, which some say resembles Charles V's wife Isabella.[19] As in contemporary portraits of couples, Europa regina has her head turned to her right and she also holds the orb with her right hand, which has been interpreted as facing and offering power to her imaginary husband, the emperor.[19] More general, Europe is shown as the res publica christiana,[17] the united Christendom in medieval tradition,[18] and great[12] or even dominant power in the world.[19]

Another allegory is the attribution of Europe as the paradise by special placement of the water bodies.[17] As contemporary iconography depicted the paradise as a closed form, Europa regina is enclosed by seas and rivers.[17] The Danube river is depicted in a way that it resembles the course of the biblical river flowing through the paradise, with its estuary formed by four arms.[17] That Europa regina is surrounded by water is also an allusion to the mythological Europa, who was abducted by Zeus and carried over the water.[19] Europa regina belongs to the Early Modern allegory of Europa triumphans, as opposed to Europa deplorans.[20]

Europa and the bull

Main article: Europa (mythology)

In the eighth century, the name of the Greek mythological character Europa was ecclesiastically used for Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire. The name was used as a geographical term also by Ancient Greek cartograpers such as Strabo, but it was the eighth century usage which ultimately led to it being adopted as the geographical name of the entire continent.[21]

Nova et accurata totius Europæ descriptio by Fredericus de Wit, 1700

According to legend, Zeus was enamored of the Phoenician noble-woman Europa and decided to seduce her. In the guise of a tame white bull, he mixed himself with the herds of Europa's father. While Europa and her female attendants were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, and got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. There he revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete. Zeus gave her a necklace made by Hephaestus and three additional gifts: Talos, Laelaps and a javelin that never missed. Zeus later re-created the shape of the white bull in the stars, which is now known as the constellation Taurus.

The emblem displayed on all EU residence permits

In addition to generally being a frequent motif in European art since Greco-Roman times, the founding myth of Europa and the bull has frequently been alluded to in relation to the continent and by the modern European Union, and can thus be considered not only a piece of toponymy, but also as a symbol, or national personification of Europe. For instance, statues of Europa and the bull are located outside several of the European Union's institutions, as well as on the Greek €2 coin. Europa's name appeared on postage stamps commemorating the Council of Europe, which were first issued in 1956. Furthermore, the dome of the European Parliament's Paul-Henri Spaak building contains a large mosaic by Aligi Sassu portraying the abduction of Europa with other elements of Greek mythology. The bull is also in the top-left corner of the new design of the residence permit card of all European Union countries.[22]

Saint Hedwig

Main article: Jadwiga of Poland

In 1997, Polish-born Pope John Paul II canonised Poland's 14th-century monarch Jadwiga as Saint Hedwig, the patron saint of queens and of European unification. From the time of her death, Jadwiga was venerated in Poland as a saint, having been buried in the Wawel Cathedral. She has been considered a model of piety, constancy and faithfulness. Numerous stories and legends were told of her charity and devotion to God.[23]


The flag of Europe, official flag of both the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Main article: Flag of Europe

The flag of Europe is used to represent both the European Union and the Council of Europe. It consists of a circle of 12 golden (yellow) stars on a blue background. The blue represents the west, the number of stars represents completeness while their position in a circle represents unity. The stars do not vary according to the members of either organisation as they are intended to represent all the peoples of Europe, even those outside European integration.

The flag was designed by Arsène Heitz and Paul M. G. Lévy in 1955 for the CoE as its symbol, and the CoE urged it to be adopted by other organisations. In 1985 the EU, which was then the European Economic Community (EEC), adopted it as its own flag (having had no flag of its own before) at the initiative of the European Parliament. The flag is not mentioned in the EU's treaties, its incorporation being dropped along with the European Constitution, but it is formally adopted in law.

Despite it being the flag of two separate organisations, it is often more associated with the EU, due to the EU's higher profile and heavy usage of the emblem. The flag has also been used to represent Europe in sporting events and as a pro-democracy banner outside the Union.[24] It has partly inspired other flags, such as those of other European organisations and those of states where the EU has been heavily involved (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Kosovo).


Main article: Anthem of Europe
A piece from the original manuscript.

The European anthem is based on the prelude to "The Ode to Joy", 4th movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Due to the large number of languages in Europe, it is an instrumental version only, with the original German lyrics having no official status. The anthem was announced on 19 January 1972 by the Council of Europe, after being arranged by conductor Herbert von Karajan. The anthem was launched via a major information campaign on Europe Day, 5 May 1972.

It was adopted by European Community leaders in 1985. It does not replace national anthems, but is intended to celebrate their shared values.[25] It is played on official occasions by both the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Other scores associated with pan-Europeanism include the hymn of the European Broadcasting Union (the prelude of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Te Deum; played e.g. before every Eurovision Song Contest) and the UEFA Champions League Anthem (an arrangement of George Frideric Handel's Zadok the Priest (one of his Coronation Anthems); played before UEFA Champions League television broadcast since 1992).

Ode to Joy

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Europe Day

Main article: Europe Day
The Schuman Parade is being arranged annually in Warsaw on Europe Day (2008)

"Europe Day" is a celebration of Europe held annually on 5 and 9 May due to differences between the Council of Europe and the EU. 9 May 1950 was the date of the "Schuman Declaration", the proposal to pool the French and West German coal and steel industries. This is considered a founding moment for what is now the EU and was adopted as its flag day at the Milan European Council summit in 1985. The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 and hence chooses that date for its celebrations. It established this date in 1964 and, despite a preference for 9 May, it is still observed by some Europeans because of the Council of Europe's role in defending human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, whereas the Schuman declaration was merely proposing the pooling of French and German coal and steel. Furthermore, 9 May coincides with Victory Day, the end of World War II (celebrated on 8 May in western Europe), in the former Soviet Union states.

Other observances

European Union-specific

The symbols of the Council are also the symbols of the European Union (except for a slight difference in the date of Europe Day, see above). The following are further symbols created by the EU but, unlike the above, are not related to the Council of Europe.


Unity in Diversity[26] was adopted as the European Union's motto on 4 May 2000 following a contest called A motto for Europe. It's inspired by a Latin-language motto by Nobel prize winner Ernesto Teodoro Moneta: In varietate unitas! or In varietate concordia! and it was selected from entries proposed by school pupils and then accepted by the President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine as Diversité dans l'unité. In 2004, the motto was written into the English-language version of the failed European Constitution (article I-8 about the EU's symbols) as United in Diversity, and now appears on English language official EU websites as United in diversity.

The European Union motto was translated into all 23 official languages in 2004.[27][28]

European Coal and Steel Community flag

The ECSC made use of the stars in the ECSC flag.

The euro and its symbol

Main articles: Euro and Euro sign
The Euro symbol shown as a sculpture outside the European Central Bank

The euro, €, was not one of the original symbols created by the Council of Europe and is specific to the EU, but it has become a symbol since it replaced 12 national currencies in 2002.[29] It is now used by most EU Member States and hence it (along with its currency symbol) has become one of the most tangible symbols of European unity for citizens of the European Union (though this of course is not intended to apply to wider Europe as the others do).

Recent events

Signatories of the declaration in blue.

The European Constitution would have legally enshrined the flag, motto, anthem and euro as being official to the EU. However, the Treaty of Lisbon does not mention the symbols, apart from the euro being made the official currency of the union. Despite being dropped from the new treaty, the EU symbols will continue to be used as before. In comparison, some countries such as the United Kingdom have not formally adopted their national flag in any form, but such flags are used nonetheless in a de facto manner.

Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic declare that the flag with a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background, the anthem based on the 'Ode to Joy' from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, the motto 'United in diversity', the euro as the currency of the European Union and Europe Day on 9 May will for them continue as symbols to express the sense of community of the people in the European Union and their allegiance to it.

 Declaration 52, consolidated EU treaties[30]

Although the symbols are not mentioned in the body of the Treaty of Lisbon itself, a declaration by sixteen Member States on the symbols, including the flag, was included in the final act of the Treaty of Lisbon stating that the flag, the anthem, the motto and the currency and Europe Day "will for them continue as symbols to express the sense of community of the people in the European Union and their allegiance to it."[30]

The European Parliament, objecting to the absence of the symbols from the Treaty of Lisbon, backed a proposal to use the symbols such as the flag more often in the Parliament with Jo Leinen MEP suggesting that the Parliament should again take the avant-garde in their use.[31] Later, in September 2008, Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs proposed a formal change in the institution's rules of procedure to make better use of the symbols: the flag would be present in all meeting rooms (not just the hemicycle) and at all official events; the anthem would be played at the start of a new Parliament following elections and at formal sittings; the motto would be printed on all Parliamentary documents; and "Europe Day" would be formally recognised by Parliament.[32] The proposal was passed on 8 October 2008 by 503 votes to 96 (15 abstentions).[33]

Other organisations

There have been other pan-European organisations which have not adopted the same symbols as the Council of Europe or the European Union, or have symbols derived from these. The Flag of the European Coal and Steel Community (the first of the three European Communities) was developed around the same time as the Flag of Europe and shares the use of stars and the colour blue, but uses completely different arrangement and symbolism.

The Flag of the Western European Union (the European defence organisation) was derived from the Flag of Europe, altered for its own usage. The Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine predates them all, but its flag also uses the colour blue and a circle of stars, though with different symbolism.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Riché, Preface xviii, Pierre Riché reflects: "[H]e enjoyed an exceptional destiny, and by the length of his reign, by his conquests, legislation and legendary stature, he also profoundly marked the history of Western Europe."
  2. "Der Karlspreisträger Seine Heiligkeit Papst Johannes Paul II. außerordentlicher Karlspreis 2004". Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  4. "". Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  5. Chamberlin, Russell, The Emperor Charlemagne, p. ???
  6. Coronation sword and scabbard of the Kings of France, Decorative Arts : Early Middle Ages, Louvre
  7. "Proposals for European flags from Arsène Heitz (1952–1955)". Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  8. "Proposals for European flags from Arsène Heitz (1952–1955)". 5 January 1952. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  9. "'Charlemagne and coke' from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (5 January 1952)". Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  10. «Must try harder». The Economist.
  11. "". 11 May 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  12. 1 2 Landwehr & Stockhorst (2004), p. 279
  13. Werner (2009), p. 243
  14. 1 2 Bennholdt-Thomsen (1999), p. 22
  15. 1 2 Borgolte (2001), p. 16
  16. 1 2 3 4 Schmale (2004), p. 244
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wendehorst & Westphal (2006), p. 63
  18. 1 2 3 Werner (2009), p. 244
  19. 1 2 3 4 Werner (2009), p. 245
  20. Werner (2009), pp. 243ff
  21. Strabo, Geography 8.1.1
  22. Demey, Thierry (2007). Brussels, capital of Europe. S. Strange (trans.). Brussels: Badeaux. p. 387. ISBN 2-9600414-2-9.
  23. "". 1 September 1939. Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  24. Mite (20 October 2004), Belarus: Scores Arrested, Opposition Leader Hospitalized After Minsk Protests,, retrieved 5 August 2007
  25. Emblemes Archived 6 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. In varietate concordia is the Latin motto chosen by European citizens in 2000. Its official English translation is "Unity in Diversity" in ''Eurodiversity: a business guide to managing difference'', page 110, by George F. Simons & Arjen Bos, 2002. Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  27. European motto In varietate concordia, Eurominority
  28. "Devise européenne". Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  29. Europe Day Europa
  30. 1 2 "Official Journal of the European Union, 2007 C 306–2 , p. 267". Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  31. Beunderman, Mark (11 July 2007). "MEPs defy member states on EU symbols". EU Observer. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  32. "EU Parliament set to use European flag, anthem". EU Business. 11 September 2008. Archived from the original on 12 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
  33. Kubosova, Lucia (9 October 2008). "No prolonged mandate for Barroso, MEPs warn". EU Observer. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
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