Against the blue sky of the Western world, the stars represent the peoples of Europe in a circle, a symbol of unity. Their number shall be invariably set at twelve, the symbol of completeness and perfection. Council of Europe – 1955
Sixty years is a pretty good age for a piece of brand design. Most organisations, if they themselves last that long, would succumb to the pressure to change a logo within that time – if for no other reason than the belief that change, in and of itself, is a good thing.
The Flag of Europe (for example), has lasted over sixty years. The design originally represented only the Council of Europe, but was later adopted by various European institutions, including the European Parliament and European Union. Today, the design represents the (at time of writing) 28 EU member countries, is used across a wide variety of formats and is internationally recognised.
Aesthetically, the flag drew on historical precedent: The flag of Belgian Congo (still just about a country in 1955) looks similar to many observers, while the flag of the United States of America, denotes member states through stars (and looked even more similar in an earlier form), although the 12 stars on the Flag of Europe were never intended to represent the member countries. On the Flag of Europe, 12 is seen as a ‘perfect’ number, indicating natural unity and wholeness (think of the zodiac, months of the year and hours on a clock). The circle of stars more particularly can be found closer to home in religious iconography: the Statue of Mary in Strasbourg Cathedral uses the same circle and the same number of stars as the Flag of Europe. There are stories and counterstories as to whether the religious iconography directly influenced the design, but it is hard to deny the basic visual similarity.
The circle, type of star and colours used are heavily symbolic. The circle is a symbol of equality and unity. Five pointed stars traditionally represent aspiration and education, while gold (the sun) on blue (the sky) indicate optimism, the kind of hope with which the Council of Europe – sprung out of the end of WWII, and later the European Union – looking forward toward the end of the Cold War, wanted to be associated with.
Whatever it’s heritage, Arsène Heitz, an employee in the internal mail service of the Council of Europe is credited with the authorship of the design. He created many drafts and sketches, including different numbers of stars, different arrangements of stars and the inclusion of laurels. Other designs (for both the original logo and the Flag of Europe) were advanced and a competition was suggested, but ultimately, as is frequently the case in design and branding (if not the real world), simplicity and the path of least offense won out.
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