Our European Identity

What makes us European? How do we identify with our continent? Most see the European Union as symbolising Europe, but our shared heritage and values go back well before the Union. Explore the familiar symbols and values of Europe and the EU below.

European Flag

As one of the most recognisable symbols of Europe, the European flag is used both by the EU and the Council of Europe where it was first adopted in 1955. The flag has a blue background with twelve golden stars. Though it is commonly thought that twelve refers to the number of member states either now or when the flag was designed, the number is in fact intended to represent completeness and unity, as is the circle shape into which the stars are arranged.

The Euro

The Euro is the official currency of the EU and is currently used by 19 of its 28 members which together constitute the Eurozone. All countries of the EU have to join the Euro at some point, with the exception of Denmark and the UK which have secured opt-outs. It is the world's second most traded currency, and many nations outside Europe have their currencies pegged to it. One side of every Euro coin has a map of the EU; the other side is reserved for each member state to stamp their own design.

European Anthem

The EU anthem is Beethoven's Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy), usually played as an instrumental such that no particular language is favoured. The anthem is performed at the opening of Parliament, and can be heard on big occasions: on the German-Polish border in 2004 to mark the Eastern enlargement, at the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, and during the Ryder Cup to commemorate European victories. To listen to the anthem, click here.

United in Diversity

In the year 2000, the then 15 member states of the EU held a competition involving over 80,000 students to come up with a motto for the European Union. United in Diversity was the winner. Any of the EU official languages can be used for the motto, giving preference to no single tongue; the Latin In Varietate Concordia has also been used. The motto is being increasingly employed by the EU institutions, most notably by the Parliament which prints it on all their documents.

Free Movement and the Schengen Area

One of the great principles of the European project is the free movement of goods, services, labour, and capital. From this developed the Schengen Area which encompasses 26 of the 28 EU member states plus several countries bordering the EU. The Schengen Area and the Euro have together made it far easier to move around Europe - people can live in one country and work in another, taking a quick and easy commute every day without border crossings and currency changes. Thus, we are free.

Europe Day

Europe Day is celebrated in the EU on the 9th May every year to commemorate the peace and unity that has prevailed in the Union since its founding. This date is chosen because, on the same day in 1950, the Schuman declaration was made, pooling the resources of France, Germany and Benelux into the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the forerunner to the European Union. Commemorations on Europe Day are carried out all over the EU by many diverse parts of society!