How The Center Remains Empty

January 2003
On the occasion of the historical decision during the summit in Copenhagen of expanding the European Union from 15 to 25 states, I proposed on 27 November 2002 to use the necessary adaptation of the European Flag to truly enhance its symbolic power.

This can be realized by combining the expanded circle of stars with The Golden Braid by Penrose/Escher. This proposal has now been presented to Brussels and other governmental bodies for further discussion and deserves some explanation.



The Golden Braid originated after the Second World War in the work of the graphic artist M.C. Escher. In 1958 the braid reached its present elementary form by the mathematician Roger Penrose. The historical development of this 'child from the marriage between art and science' can thus be paralleled to that of the European Union.

The image represents a three dimensional figure that can only be realized in a two dimensional fashion. One cannot give it spatial design. That is the reason that this object is also known as the Impossible or Eternal Golden Braid.

In a political context this image can serve as a powerful symbol of the Trias Politica: the Division of Powers found in a modern democracy. In this way the center remains empty - no absolutism, no petty autocracy.

With the supplement of the desired number of stars for each member state, a modern, relativating symbol is created that is more than the sum of its parts, and is above all, unique in its sort. The 'Eternal Triangle' shall be a constant reminder to us of the 'Eternal Task' of creating a united Europe.

This icon will help in a natural way the realization of the peaceful ideal it symbolizes.

Amsterdam, Christmas 2002
Peter Schat

to the
European Union
27 november 2002

Human beings are political as well as visual animals. They need images to develop their thoughts, icons to open new perspectives. The European flag is a case in point. It is by now, after a generation in use, a well known symbol: a blue background with a circle of twelve stars. And it is indeed what a flag should be; recognizable at first sight, and different from other icons.But it is at the same time utterly boring and of a destitution that betrays the artistic poverty of its cradle: bureaucracy. Visually it is as inspiring as a dishcloth, and as such, a shame for a continent so rich in images.

Rem Koolhaas has designed an attractive alternative: a bar-code of the national colors of all the member states of the Union. It is a simple, colorful and direct proposal, with an ironic flavor of consumerism. But it has one serious flaw: it ignores history. It simply eradicates the previous flag with one big revolutionary stroke. This is indeed too simple for a satisfying solution. So with the impending enlargement(s) of the Union the problem remains.
It has been proposed to create a second (and eventually a third) ring of twelve (smaller) stars within the existing one, but that could result in a suggestion of second and third rate member states, which would violently clash with the whole idea of the Union. Besides, this would not change the basic visual poverty of the present design. It would just mean more of the same.

So let's give it another try. Because the time is ripe - another opportunity will probably never come again!

I propose to use Penrose/Escher's well known 'Golden Braid' or 'Impossible Triangle' as the European Icon. It can symbolize the democratic Separation of Powers, the Trias Politica, upon which the Union is based and which holds the cluster of stars of its member states firmly together. Additionally it carries with it an ironic suggestion of the 'impossibility of the European dream'.It is an intriguing, robust and 'infinite' image, that in a magical way seems more indestructible than a mere triad would be. It could even serve as the symbol of the rule of law.

Political institutions of Europe unite,
and give us this inspiring icon!

Based on this idea I've begun to write a string trio, involving also this most delicate and humble of all musical instruments: the triangle. It is called

An Impossible Triangle for Europe
opus 50

It will be published in due time on this site.



To Mr. Lars Mitek
Head of Unit Secretary General of the European Commission

Dear Mr. Mitek,

Thank you for your quick response on behalf of Mr. Prodi to my 'Appeal to the European Union'.
I understand that there has never been any plan in adapting the European flag to the impending enlargement of the Union, as was indeed, like you wrote, "widely reported in the press".
To be the victim of a press hype is always painful, and in this case also rather disappointing because I had a little hope that the dull and visually uninspiring European icon could be improved upon. Now it will remain, as it is, with the 12 stars - 12 being the "symbol of perfection and entirety", as you write.

As a composer, working with the 'equal tempered system', which is now in use all over the world since the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, I couldn't agree more! As I see it the twelve tones are indeed 'a symbol of perfection and entirety', as I have visualized in the 'tone clock' (see attachment). It is the basis of all my work for the last two decades, which includes my website.

Clearly, the twelve hours of the tone clock are visually much more interesting than the twelve equal stars of the Union flag, and they could represent the differences between the twelve original states (in size, or population) much more adequately than the present equal stars do. So why not use the tone clock as the new European icon? This is of course a naive idea, if only because it has been erroneously decided that the enlargement will not touch the icon.

That a the original icon will remain, is in my opinion, a poor decision. It expresses only a lack of imagination and courage, and doesn't take the newcomers seriously. These new members of the Union mean a new beginning for Europe and deserve that recognition.
So my Appeal, with its strong symbolic meaning, still stands.

As a European citizen, yours truly,

Peter Schat



Travelling through Norway's fabulous fjords to Europe's North Cape
(that strikingly resembles the Rock of Gibraltar)

to the land of the midnight sun

and with Europe at your feet
one is tempted to dream of EUROPOLIS.


I think many Europeans dream that dream, without even knowing it. Because after Duisenberg's historic achievement of euro, and the impending enlargement to 35 nation-states, Europe is yearning for a new inspiring challenge. Such a challenge is essential to prevent stagnation of the unification-process. - a matter of life and death for the whole world, since the Europeans have managed already twice within the last century to unify the world in war, and a third time could mean total holocaust. We really need a supreme effort.

So lets build EUROPOLIS, the capital city of Europe!

Many traditional nationalists would argue that such a city is already provided for - we only have to choose from Paris, London. Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Brussels or Strasburg. But somehow this choice doesn't really inspire many people, however beautiful and fascinating these cities's each are. Maybe they're just too saturated with their own 'history'.
Yet history teaches us about those countries, when growing as big as a continent, invariably building their new capital city: Washington and Brasilia in the Americas, and Canberra in Australia - to name only the best known.
So let's join them with Europolis.

On a bird-safari in the crystalline waters of the North Cape, with Europe at your feet, midsummer nights-dreaming of Europolis continues:
The spacious center of this 'dream city' is a large park, inhabited by a herd of grazing descendants from the bull that carried the goddess Europe on its back in Greek mythology.
Here are no motorways; only waterways and footpaths - for peddlers and pedestrians. All connections (between the three main buildings and with the rest of the city) are underground.
Silence reigns supreme.
The center of the park is a great lake that containing the 26 islands of the Genes Archipelago. These double islands represent the human genome as it was recently revealed by our strongest microscopes.
(genome.jpg - opzoeken)Genes Archipelago

From the center of this archipelago arises the Prismaquarium: a large triadic aquarium that reveals and multiplies the surrounding underwater life to every passer by. A permanent fountain of rising airbubbles provides an uplifting atmosphere.
When hit by the sunlight this huge Newtonian water prism produces a spectrum of hitherto unseen proportions.
This is the European Monument of the Enlightenment.

The three angles of the Prismaquarium are directed at the three buildings on the borders of the lake, symbolizing the Separation of Powers in a modern democracy.
Each edifice is crowned by its own sphere:

the Golden Sphere of the Excecutive,

the Marble Sphere of the Judiciary, and the Coloured Sphere of the Legislative

They symbolize the Sun, the Moon and the Earth, as our generation has seen the latter, with tears in our eyes, at dawn from the moon -.

Around the park are (proportionally) the 35 city sections of the member states, freely built in their national tradition as a contribution to the Community.

A convincing computerdesign of Europolis can only be realized by professional architects - under construction.
To give you an idea of the main elements of this dream I've made some models in glass, as lamps in my attic. They're just exercises, nothing definitive, of course.



The layout of Europolis should be seen as a further development of the cosmos-oriented city planning of the ancient civilizations of Babylon, Egypt, Mexico or India.
It emphasizes the awareness that we're all citizens of the universe.
This orientation seems appropriate at the beginning of a millennium in which the human race started to colonize its solar system - another dream that can only be dreamt in peace.

A City inspired by cosmic democracy can of course only be realized in an inspired and truly democratic way. Not afraid of dreams, but on its guard of illusions.
Its name, site, meaning and form should only be decided in grand public debates, throughout Europe. This is exactly the sort of debate we need for our further communal development.
I hope my sincere contribution will be helpful here.

(Cape North, july 2002)


© Peter Schat
© design