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EUROPEAN UNION

How an EU hoodie became the street cred emblem of German politicians

An EU-themed hoodie designed by a Berlin street-wear label has become the it-garment for German politicians signalling a stance against nationalist forces in European Parliament elections.

How an EU hoodie became the street cred emblem of German politicians
Wolfgang Ischinger, 73, dons the sweatshirt earlier this year. Photo: DPA

At the time of the Brexit vote almost two years ago, Berlin fashion designer David Mallon produced the first few hundred of the dark blue “EUnify” sweaters.

He removed one of the 12 golden stars and stuck it onto the back of the hooded jumper, along with the phone number of the European Union's information hotline.

“A missing star and the symbolism of a broken circle show everyone pretty quickly that something is wrong,” explained Mallon at the Berlin shop of his label Souvenir Official.

“And that starts a dialogue.”

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to Germany's top Euro election candidates

A symbol of the times, the hoodie style evokes hip-hop culture, street protests and youthful rebellion, yet the logo sends a deeply pro-democratic and anti-extremist message.

As well as those rallying against Brexit, Mallon's creation soon caught the eye of fashionistas and influencers, popping up on Instagram, at trendy parties, in high school yards, and with cool kids as far away as Asia and New York.

Early this year, it made its breakthrough into the more staid world of global politics when it was donned by none other than Wolfgang Ischinger, 73, organizer of the Munich Security Conference.

At the annual powwow of heads of state, ministers, diplomats and generals, the sartorial Christmas present from Ischinger's grandson got more attention than his dire warnings about the collapse of the post-World War II global order.

'Cool love for Europe'

Since then there has been no stopping a fashion trend that may spark shrieks of delight from European Commission bureaucrats, while the label has added a T-shirt, jogging pants and a waist bag to its line.

Another early adopter was the youthful leader of the liberal, pro-business FDP party, Christian Lindner, who posted a picture of himself in an EU sweater on Instagram.

The caption included a winking smiley face and the message that “For me Europe is not only a continent, but another word for #freedom, #responsibility, diversity, openness and #tolerance”.

Then came Justice Minister Katarina Barley of the centre-left Social Democrats, who has in recent weeks been seen sporting a EUnify jumper on giant campaign posters.

Fashion historian Uta-Christiane Bergemann noted that the sweater allows pro-European candidates, whether from the right or left, “to convey a very direct and quickly understandable message”.

By wearing one, Barley “conveys a sociable and youthful impression”, Bergemann said, while also signalling that “she identifies so strongly with Europe that she will envelop herself in it”.

SEE ALSO: Dexit: One in 10 Germans in favour of leaving the EU

Some designers already dare to dream that the EU flag will become as iconic as the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack.

“At first we were quite alone, but now there are about 20 creators in this niche, and I think that's very good,” said Mallon, who noted that while the symbol is trendy in Berlin, it is subversive in many English cities.

Inevitably, the hoodie hype has sparked a backlash, with some critics likening it to the inflationary and empty use of the image of Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary.

“You can welcome so much cool love for Europe,” wrote one commentator in news weekly Die Zeit.

“Or you can ask whether you can really purchase a political attitude in an online shop with next-day delivery.”

 By Daphne Rousseau

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EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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