Ikea, H&M, Nokia, Zara: a fairytale EU life built on brands

Article published on Oct. 9, 2009
Article published on Oct. 9, 2009
The products we buy all bear the CE marking, French for 'European Conformity'. What if our lives were also conforming to the advertising messages of the leading brands in the European market? The big fishes are swallowing the small ones. Are they also picking away at our identity?

I have four letters. I am the second most widely read publication in the world after the Bible. I am blue and yellow; students cannot resist my Nordic bed covers in orange tones, or brightly-coloured coffee tables at the heart of any good party. I am... the Ikea catalogue! This revelation is setting tongues a wagging on the internet. But it’s not the only one: according to some calculations, bearing in mind the number of births in Europe and of Ikea sales since the fifties, it could be said that one in ten Europeans have been conceived in a bed from the most famous Swedish company. Could the number one European furniture supplier be building more than just shelves? Could it be constructing Europe itself?

(Image: ©anitacanita/ Flickr)

Ever lower prices

'Leafing through the Ikea catalogue when you get back from holiday is becoming a bit of a ritual,' according to Spanish daily El País. 81% of the Ikea group’s sales are made in Europe, representing a global figure of 21, 100 million euros in 2008. The obligatory circuit of showrooms, tape measure in hand, seduces customers from Finland to Spain with its low prices. Its low costs are achieved because it buys and sells its products in bulk. The Swedish giant H&M shares this strategy for ever lower prices. Is the day-to-day life of European citizens being guided by these large brands?

(Image: ©camil tulcan/ Flickr)8am: I am woken by my tiny Finnish Nokia 3310. With my eyes half-open, I climb out of my Ikea bed and slip my feet into my Spanish slippers from Zara. I sleepwalk my way over to my German Bosch coffee machine and add two spoonfuls of Swiss Nescafé. On autopilot, I take out two slices of bread bought from the German Lidl. After bolting down some breakfast, I’m running late. Swiss H&M jacket, Spanish Desigual skirt and French Dior...j’adore... perfume. I have barely left the house when someone offers me a 20 Minutes newspaper, launched in 1999 in Zurich and Cologne by a Norwegian editor. Mind you, I prefer the Swiss-owned Metro. Shall I go on? The noise from the building work being carried out by the French firm Bouygues means I can’t hear my mobile, provided by the English operator Vodafone. I hop on my rent-a-bike run by the French company JC Decaux. When I get to the traffic lights, I overtake an Italian Fiat and arrive at uni. I take out a French Bic and a German Stabilos. My Swiss swatch watch tells me I am ten minutes late for my globalisation class...

Financial bridges

Far more than an economic union, Europe now exists on social, cultural and political levels. The free circulation of goods is uniformising our consumer products. At first glance, nothing looks more like a European city than another European city, in part thanks to the brands’ billboards twinkling on the side of buildings everywhere.

Consuming European products can make us more European

Interviewed by Euronauts (members of a virtual community of European federalists), the philosopher Vincent Cespedes appears sceptical about the idea of a Europe built by companies. 'Creating Europe is creating bridges and walkways,' he says. 'I am talking about real human things, not financial bridges and customs that can disappear.' The European consumer centre in Kehl, on the French-German border, believes: 'Of course, consuming European products can make us more European, as we realise the advantages of travelling freely from one country to another and grasp the opportunity to buy at the best price by crossing borders. This activity has both positive and negative aspects. This centre aims to resolve cross-border lawsuits in an amicable way and to inform people of their rights and opportunities in the internal market.' Whereas products are becoming more and more alike, prices still vary across the continent. Why not buy a fridge from the other side of Europe? Some Irish people go to the dentist in Poland...