Walking through the Parlamentarium gift shop feels like swimming in a deep blue sea dotted with bright yellow boats. The instantly recognisable European Union motif is emblazoned on everything from lanyards and notebooks, to hats and scarves.
There are also puzzles which perfectly represent the act of coming together at the formation of the EU, souvenir silver spoons with the EU flag on the handle, and even children’s books about the life of Simone Veil, the first female president of the European Parliament.
A few years ago, this picture would have been much less colourful. When the Parlamentarium – the visitor centre of the European Parliament – was opened in 2011, the gift shop was intended to give visitors a museum experience.
The tendering process to manage it was won by the German company Culturetainement. With no guidance on merchandising, it plumped for a sober style heavily dependent on the text-based messaging of the EU.
“That first year we lost money,” reveals Tamara Goldstein, manager of the EU gift shops housed in the Parlamentarium and the House of European History in Parc Leopold.
According to Goldstein, from its early days shoppers knew what they wanted from the EU gift shop, and it certainly was not black umbrellas that read “No water, no future”, or mugs decorated with ways to say “good morning” in all the EU’s official languages.
“People would come into the shop and say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice mug, but don’t you have something blue with the 12 stars?’” she recalls. After two years of admitting they did not, they shifted gear and decided to put the flag on every item.
“I never imagined somebody would want to walk around in a blue hoodie with the EU’s 12 stars,” Goldstein says. Today, that hoodie is one of the shop’s best-selling items, despite being among the most expensive at €60.
I never imagined somebody would want to walk around in a blue hoodie with the EU’s 12 stars
Moving just below the €20 price range we find another favourite, one that was also born out of the will of the people: a blue babygrow with the EU’s 12 stars on the front. This cute product is a particular hit with EU officials in mixed nationality couples, says Goldstein. “What better gift for a Greek father and Danish mother than this European little onesie, for a baby who is the fruit of both the European Union and the union of this couple?”
There is clearly a trend for wearing the EU, whatever your age. The top-selling article in the shop is the double flag lapel pin, depicting the EU flag next to the flag of either a Member State or a third country. “People want to highlight both their nationality, and the fact they belong to the EU,” says Goldstein.
The pin also serves as a barometer for EU citizens’ political sentiment. Back when the Brexit vote had yet to take place and hundreds of fervent EU supporters would hop on the Eurostar to attend anti-Brexit protests in London, sales of the EU-UK double flag pin skyrocketed. Today, the best-selling double flag pins see the EU flag next to the LGBTQ+ flag or that of Ukraine.
And those are the hottest items at the Parlamentarium gift shop.