When the Eurocrisis strikes, who are you going to call? Captain Euro, apparently.

Captain Euro emerged from the PR agency 12 Stars (now Gold Mecury International) in 1999 to promote the European Union and the introduction of the Euro (2002). Their Brand EU Centre takes an unashamedly federalist approach to the European Union and has relaunched an updated comic strip character to take on the "identity crisis" in Europe. 

E&M interviewed the creator of Captain Euro, Nicolas De Santis, President and Secretary General of Gold Mercury International, on the challenges facing Europe, the attraction of federalism and whether rebranding the European Union is what Europe really needs.

E&M: On your website, you say that the EU has an "identity crisis", which Capatian Euro is tackling - can you explain what you mean by this and how you see his character addressing it?

NDS: The European Union is a complex governance unit and is moving faster than people can comprehend. People have a lot of trouble identifying with a united Europe, and being a European is often viewed as being at odds with the person's national identity. The reality is that identity is very fluid and complex: they are not mutually exclusive.

Photo: Nicolas De Santis (By permission)
The full cast of the revamped Captain Euro.

Another part of this "identity crisis" is that people are not fully aware what Europe stands for, or precisely what it does. This is primarily an issue of identity, brand management and communications. Captain Euro is one answer to these problems. Through Captain Euro and the Brand EU Centre, we aim to communicate what the EU really is about, and clarify its structure and operations. If people understand its powerful messages of peace, democracy and goodwill, and we also create a powerful vision of the future, then this "identity crisis" will be resolved. People will understand what Europe stands for and where it is going. How it does not conflict with their national identity, but instead complements it. This is our mission.

E&M: Can the crisis in Europe really be fixed by rebranding or is the problem more of politics and economics? What role then is a cartoon such as Captain Euro playing (particularly for the young European audience) in tackling these problems?

Captain Euro's role is to provide a clearer brand and simpler understanding for the EU.

NDS: Most of the economic problems and crises are national problems at a national level. Most are created by poor governance, lack of vision and leadership. Rebranding for us is not about just changing a logo or some cosmetic change. We need to clarify and redefine the role of most EU institutions. It is also about creating cool new content and healthy debate that truly connects with people and makes them care about it.

It is not just Europe which is facing problems of politics and economics – these are worldwide issues that affect all of us. We believe that together, as part of the EU, is the best way that we in Europe can tackle these difficult political and economic issues. We are much stronger together. This is why we view the rebranding as a necessity – by helping citizens identify with and understand Europe under a clearer, relatable brand, we believe is the important first step. After all, if the Union were to break apart as Eurosceptics would like, we believe that these global problems would become bigger and then could not be adequately solved.

Photo: Nicolas De Santis (By permission)
Captain Euro carries an unashemedly federalist approach to the European Union.

Captain Euro's role is to provide a clearer brand and simpler understanding for the EU, but also to make people discuss these issues in a more relatable manner. This is particularly crucial for a younger audience, who really seek greater engagement and responsiveness from politics and Europe.

E&M: To me, Captain Euro's design has a kind of 1970s Action cartoon feel about it, what was the inspiration behind it and how do you think it reflects young europeans' experience of Europe today?

NDS: Our focus groups and test audiences enjoyed the retro look, across a variety of age groups and types of people. We believe this look makes Captain Euro highly relatable to a large number of people, as younger audiences will have familiarity with the old action hero look, and adults will remember the old superheroes from comic books in the 80s and 90s. We feel it is ageless.

Our focus groups and test audiences enjoyed the retro look, across a variety of age groups.

E&M: Captaint Euro seems to speak in favour of one particular view of a political europe – i.e.: federal / more integrated Europe – isn't that a problematic interpretation when there are so many different understandings of what political vs. economic Europe could be? How can these be reconciled?

NDS: Indeed, the desired implementation of European federalism is a complex topic. Federalism is a system for integrating parts in a complex system. Federal = integration at the centre sharing certain sovereign powers as specified by treaties. The first part of the battle is convincing people that European unity is a good thing. Then we need to clarify what system of future governance will manage Europe (federalism).  Showing that federalism is not about centralising power but about co-sharing powers at the centre. We aim to do this by clarifying what federalism is, and showing how Europe is already federal in quite a lot of ways – similar to the United States.

Photo: Nicolas De Santis (By permission)
Captain Euro has strong political views on Putin.

E&M: Equally, what would you say to critics who suggest that positioning those who disagree with the common European identity (re: Eurosceptics) as the evil 'D. Vider' undermining people's concerns about the European Union rather than convincing them that more integration is valuable?

NDS: We are running out of time in Europe. We are reacting very slowly to internal and global issues and it is time to push for faster integration. It is time to create these two clear camps in Europe so at least we can have a clean debate about our future and waste no more time. For us, those who want to divide Europe have not learnt from our horrible past based on separation. We want to go towards the future united in peace.

Dr D. Vider is not meant to represent anyone who disagrees with a common European identity, so much as represent a particular archaic mindset based on scaremongering which we think is common among mainstream Eurosceptics. He mostly speaks for economically motivated, self-interest and short-termism. The aim is not to tar all Eurosceptics with the same brush. On the contrary, we try to accommodate people's legitimate grievances with certain aspects of the EU. In a few of our strips, Captain Euro himself makes some comments which are critical or understanding of another perspective on the EU.

Europe represents a global example of international democracy to be followed by other groups of nations.

E&M: Captain Euro is politically outspoken (including images against Putin) – what was the thinking behind making him controversial in this way?

NDS: We are here to show that the EU together is a strong global political actor. As an independent initiative, we have the flexibility and capacity to say things which Brussels would not want to speak of. The decision to make the new Captain Euro more politically outspoken was a very deliberate one. We want to get people talking about issues and discussing them, in a way which involves everyone, not just political experts and elites. Through the use of strong, outspoken perspectives on controversial topics and incorporating a bit of light-hearted humour, we hope to open up the political forum to citizens of Europe.

Photo: Nicolas De Santis
Nicolas De Santis, creator of Captain Euro

E&M: Captain Euro is the product of Brand EU at Gold Mercury International – can you give me the background of how this project fits into your company's or client's work? Is it privately backed and will we see the character promote products or policy positions in the future?

NDS: We are independent and privately backed. The mission of the Brand EU – European Union Brand Centre at Gold Mercury International is to assist in the creation of a powerful EU brand identity that connects with citizens and the rest of the world. The centre uses Gold Mercury International's extensive experience in global branding and identity issues, European Union affairs, strategic visioning and territorial branding.

E&M: And finally, what does Europe mean to you?

NDS: To me, Europe represents a global example of international democracy to be followed by other groups of nations. It is about peace, democracy, and stability, in a very uncertain and violent world. It is the culmination of centuries of war, suffering and human pain in Europe, and a way of preventing future war in Europe along the lines of World War I and World War II. To me, that is Europe's most valuable contribution to the world.

But it also represents the breaking down of the boundaries which separate people – embracing commonality and humanity. It represents uniting for economic strength. Europe means a lot to me, and that is why we at Brand EU believe in protecting something which is a great good for all of us.

This interview was conducted via email and has been edited for length and clarity. Matt Shearman’s current employment involves work for a health PR agency. The interviewee was informed of this in advance of the interview and it was agreed that this posed no conflict of interest.


Cover photo: (Copyright Nicholes De Santis, by permission)

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