Creative with European Flags

It was perhaps not the best time to do something creative with the flags of the 28 member states of the European Union. With the results of the Greek referendum in this morning’s papers, the future is uncertain. There may very well be only 27 members states somewhere in the very near future. And in that case my flag project is instantly outdated.

Moreover, one of the characteristics of a political union like the EU is that countries can join or leave. In the past, only the first happened and currently the second option seems to become fashionable but the current gloomy mood can suddenly change again. It is therefore unlikely that there will be 28 member states forever, Grexit or not.

So I decided to take a broader approach. Europe is, after all, more than just the European Union. Europe is a continent and which country belongs to it changes less rapidly than the member list of the Union. Greece may step out or be kicked out of the EU, but the country will not sail away and become part of Asia or Africa.

The melting pot version of a composition with 48 European Flags
European flags: a melting pot

The selection procedure

However, also this operation is not without pitfalls. There are a number of areas on our continent which are independent in practice but not recognized by “the international community”: Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, Transdniestria. I’ve left them out of the selection for now.

There are some countries that take part in the European Football Championships but that are part of a larger political entity: the Faroe Islands, as well as Scotland, England and Wales. I have not incorporated those constituent parts. And Israel and Australia are also out. Taking part in the Eurovision song contest does not make you a European country.

And actually, the whole concept of Europe as a continent is debatable. Europe is a peninsula that is attached to Asia and, as such, comparable to India. However, there is consensus among geographers about where Europe’s borders are. Though some countries are only partly within those borders (Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) I have  included them. And I’ve also included islands like Cyprus, Malta and Iceland, although you could easily say they’re part of  Asia, Africa or America.

A total of 49 European countries fit the above criteria. I wanted to have 48 of them because that number can be so beautifully divided into 8 by 6 fields. Therefore, I also added the requirement “larger more than one square kilometer”, so I could leave the Vatican out. With my apologies to Pope Benedict, who seems to be a nice guy.


Relief version of a composition of 48 European flags
Such a relief…

You can arrange the 48 European flags in 48! (48 factorial, as mathematicians say) ways. But I have not calculated how much that is exactly, or even approximately. As with the 28 flags of the previous project I moved these 48 flags around with the sole purpose of creating a composition in which colors, surfaces and lines merge into one another.

After much shuffling I came to the result shown above, from left to right and from top to bottom the flags of Belarus, Cyprus, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Portugal, Malta, Albania, Slovenia, Armenia, Italy Ireland, Belgium, Romania, France, Estonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Iceland, Germany, Estonia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Croatia, Lithuania, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Britain, Georgia, Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Poland , Norway, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, Spain, San Marino, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Russia, Czech Republic and Macedonia.

See for example how the white of Cyprus and Slovenia merge into one field, like the blue of Bosnia and Moldova or the red of Liechtenstein and Spain.

Stained glass and halftone pattern

I’ve applied the same further operations as in the previous round. So the stained-glass window is here again…

Stained glass version of a composition with 48 European flags
Stained glass

…just like the halftone pattern shown below. Up close that one looks  rather different than from further afield; it really pays to take a considerable distance from the screen:

halftone patterned version of a composition of 48 European flags
Keep a safe distance…

Update: the flags of ’21

The worries I had in 2015 about the relevance of my European Union flag project turned out to be justified. Although those worries at the time mainly concerned the possibility of a Grexit that the newspapers were full of. No one talks about that anymore, but in the meantime the British have fled.

In any case, in retrospect, it has proved more than useful to leave those flags of the Union alone and instead start tinkering with the flags of all 48 countries on our little subcontinent. Even though history shows that that number is not set in stone either.

Recently I added some new versions of that 48 composition. Including the pastel rendition below: by blending the flags in two directions, a fascinating play of colors is created. Which of course, if you want, can give instant inspiration for a story about cooperation and unity in diversity.

Composition with flags of 48 European countries, blending in two directions, creating a fascinating pastel effect
European flags: unity in diversity

Flags on the wall

The entire flags project can be viewed in my online gallery:

Imaginary space with a large stained glass window in which the flags of 48 European countries are represented
A “real” European stained glass window

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam-controle: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.