Does Europe need a collective image?

You’ve got to admire Demos. Having tackled the thorny task of examining the brand we might think of as Britain, it has applied its skills to finding a cultural unity in Europe. No easy job, but one that will swell its reputation and stimulate even more debate on the issue of national branding.

Since the dawning of pan-European branding for fmcg products in the late Eighties, we’ve tended to dismiss the idea of promoting Europe at the expense of preserving regional differences in flavour between countries. Except, that is, when it comes to political and economic accord. The fact the Japanese think of Scotch as a European drink, probably distilled somewhere on the Continent, is considered a bit of a red herring.

The “love affair” between US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says more about Britain’s international leanings than, say, the wrangles about a European currency. There’s scant evidence, for example, that the Channel Tunnel has improved the mildly antagonistic relationship that exists between the UK and France.

Nor do we push the idea of European design as an entity, particularly in Britain, where we regard ourselves as best in many disciplines, or at least in training world-class designers. The rumpus over the child’s sketch of a pizza representing Italy, in the identity created to mark the UK’s six-month presidency of the European Union, highlights the way we misjudge our European cousins.

But maybe things are changing. Maybe we no longer believe that a blanket “European” approach to design automatically spells blandness – there’s enough of that coming from individual countries, including the UK, to show that nationalism and excellence aren’t synonymous.

London-based Italian architect Enrico Astori, founder of Italian furniture firm Driade, says he detects a new European style. But it’s not coming from individuals such as French star Philippe Starck, rather from the “teamwork” between designers he sees in Driade’s display of largely British design at Viaduct’s London showroom.

Over in Eindhoven another Italian architect , Stefano Marzano, is plugging away with a multinational design team comprising 400 staff globally to create household products with a Philips brand that are neither Dutch nor Italian. Nor are they bland.

If design is an indicator, the Demos report on Europe the brand could be well timed. The question is: why bother? Even in sport, where national reputation is pushed to the extreme, we don’t see Europe competing against the rest of the world. Why therefore do we need a collective image?

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