Among the hundreds of policy makers and officials who have participated in the creation of the euro, a special place belongs to Jean-Pierre Malivoir.
The 61-year-old European Commission official is the inventor of the € symbol, which from January 1 will symbolise the currency of the 12 countries of the eurozone. And, remarkably, in a project that has attracted highly paid consultants like flies to a honey pot, Mr Malivoir's work has cost the European taxpayer nothing.
As chief of the Commission's euro mission, it has been Mr Malivoir's job to spread information about the single currency. His department has commissioned and publicised Gallup's "flash Eurobarometer" surveys which have chronicled levels of euro awareness among the public and businesses in the approach to the changeover of notes and coins. It has helped co-ordinate the euro campaigns of the member states, the European Central Bank and the national central banks.
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Since joining the euro mission in 1995, the self-effacing Mr Malivoir has adopted a hands-on approach to his job. "He was the quarter-master of the campaign," one former colleague enthuses. "If there was a CD or another piece of hardware required to give the euro a boost, Malivoir would be there."
In 1996 when Yves Thibault de Silguy, then commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, suggested a publicity tool to increase the euro awareness of leaders and journalists attending December's Dublin summit, Mr Malivoir took up the challenge. He decided to invent a euro symbol to put on tee-shirts for journalists and scarves for heads of government.
"It had to remind people of Europe, evoke a world currency and be easy to write on cheques," he recalls. At first, around 30 designs were produced. These were cut down to a shortlist of five, all bearing a resemblance to the final € symbol of a stylised "E" bisected by two straight lines. These were submitted to Mr de Silguy and Jacques Santer, the Commission president at the time.
This home-made approach saved the European tax payer at least €425,000, estimates Mark Rollinson, managing director of Marstellar, the London design and advertising arm of the Burson-Marstellar public relations group. According to Mr Rollinson, a top European "corporate identity consultant" would probably charge an initial £100,000 to research the project in the 15 EU member states, £100,000 to test it in focus groups across Europe, £15,000 on the detailed development of the chosen design and at least £25,000 to research the implementation of the artwork on forms, company reports and accounts.
That Mr Malivoir's € symbol slipped through the consultant's net was matter of good luck rather than good management. The Financial Times and some other newspapers reporting the 1996 Dublin summit picked up the logo and published it with their coverage. An instant hit, its confirmation as the € symbol followed soon after when it was adopted by the European Monetary Institute, the forerunner of the European Central Bank.
But the EU would not be the EU without some complication. Mr Malivoir's symbol is the object of a trade mark dispute before the European Court of Justice brought by Interpayment, a former subsidiary of travel company Thomas Cook and now owned by Travelex, the London-based currency exchanger.
Thomas Cook and Interpayment are seeking £25.5m in compensation from the Commission for the alleged trade mark infringement of a similar design. The Commission says it is confident it will win the case, claiming Interpayment's design is moon shaped whereas its own € symbol was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon.
The case is still in the early stages so it could be some years before we know whether Mr Malivoir's € design is a boon or burden for the EU taxpayer.
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