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The European Central Bank has just announced its intention to issue new banknotes, this time representing natural persons, “so that they speak to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds”. To choose the banknotes, the ECB launched a selection process involving digital experts, historians, artists from 19 countries, and citizens’ groups. A dozen characters will be chosen in 2024, and the banknotes will be ready two years later.

The idea is a good one: nothing is sadder than the bridges and lines that disfigure our tickets today. It is, however, a strange initiative at a time when physical money is set to disappear, even in Germany where banknotes are still widely used, and when digital currencies are appearing, which the ECB is developing.

However, the exercise opens up a fascinating reflection on the identity of the continent.

If it is really a question of speaking to “Europeans of all ages and backgrounds”, it would be necessary to produce many different banknotes, with many different effigies, for each age and each background, because there is absolutely no honourable European personality who meets all these criteria: obviously, no one would want any of the dictators, whom everyone knows, who have bloodied the continent, and no one else is known to all.

In order to choose the most suitable ones, one could, for example, decide to issue different banknotes every year, like European film or song stars, among the most distributed in the year. However, because of the time it takes to manufacture and secure the banknotes, each year we would have banknotes bearing the image of stars who are sometimes already forgotten. And the notes are intended to remain in circulation for decades, which would make the exercise ridiculous.

It is therefore preferable to stick to the sure values, those that have embodied Europe for centuries.  At least that of the Union, within its current borders, which deprive us of many talents.

But in what fields? Economists? Too conflicting. Politicians? Too questionable. Artists, scientists, philosophers. Certainly. And even if most of them are not known to “all ages and all walks of life”, this would be an opportunity to make them known and thus build a European pantheon.

Then comes the final difficulty: how to fulfil the criteria of gender and geographical origin? This is obviously impossible. And yet, if a choice has to be made, here are my twelve today:

Aristotle (384-322BC): Greek philosopher, physician, tutor to Alexander, from whom the bulk of the Western scientific method derives,

Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179), German, creator of a religious order, composer of music, writer, diplomat, respected enough to mediate a major conflict between the Pope and the Emperor

Giordano Bruno (1548- 1600): immense Italian writer, inspiration for Shakespeare, visionary, who died at the stake in Rome, on the Pope’s orders, for having dared to proclaim that the solar system was part of a galaxy, which was only one galaxy among others.

Marie Curie (1867-1934): physicist and chemist of genius, both Polish and French, twice Nobel Prize winner for discovering new elements in nature with amazing properties.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), born German, became American and died in Paris, because she embodies, among others, the cinema and the Resistance

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793): French and pioneer of women’s rights, who paid with her life.

Anne Frank (1929-1945): without needing to be reminded of her fate and the universality of her message

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944): an immense Swedish painter, a pioneer of abstract art, totally unknown until very recently and who could represent here all the forgotten female artists.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), of course, because nothing is more European than his music.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973): both Spanish and French, a universal genius, who says better than any other that the genius of Europe lies in the refusal of borders between genres and people.

Ibn Rushd (1126-1198): an immense Spanish philosopher, a Muslim, at the origin of the rehabilitation of scientific thought in Europe.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519): absolute genius, probably the best known of all in the world, also a migrant, at the end of his life.

From this impossible exercise, which everyone can attempt, we will remember above all the immensity of the treasures of art and thought accumulated by Europe and the sum of forgotten, trampled and lost talents, which we must now protect and welcome. In any case, those I chose were all rebels and that is how I love Europe.