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How an EU hoodie became the street cred emblem of German politicians

An EU-themed hoodie designed by a Berlin street-wear label has become the it-garment for German politicians signalling a stance against nationalist forces in European Parliament elections.

How an EU hoodie became the street cred emblem of German politicians
Wolfgang Ischinger, 73, dons the sweatshirt earlier this year. Photo: DPA

At the time of the Brexit vote almost two years ago, Berlin fashion designer David Mallon produced the first few hundred of the dark blue “EUnify” sweaters.

He removed one of the 12 golden stars and stuck it onto the back of the hooded jumper, along with the phone number of the European Union's information hotline.

“A missing star and the symbolism of a broken circle show everyone pretty quickly that something is wrong,” explained Mallon at the Berlin shop of his label Souvenir Official.

“And that starts a dialogue.”

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to Germany's top Euro election candidates

A symbol of the times, the hoodie style evokes hip-hop culture, street protests and youthful rebellion, yet the logo sends a deeply pro-democratic and anti-extremist message.

As well as those rallying against Brexit, Mallon's creation soon caught the eye of fashionistas and influencers, popping up on Instagram, at trendy parties, in high school yards, and with cool kids as far away as Asia and New York.

Early this year, it made its breakthrough into the more staid world of global politics when it was donned by none other than Wolfgang Ischinger, 73, organizer of the Munich Security Conference.

At the annual powwow of heads of state, ministers, diplomats and generals, the sartorial Christmas present from Ischinger's grandson got more attention than his dire warnings about the collapse of the post-World War II global order.

'Cool love for Europe'

Since then there has been no stopping a fashion trend that may spark shrieks of delight from European Commission bureaucrats, while the label has added a T-shirt, jogging pants and a waist bag to its line.

Another early adopter was the youthful leader of the liberal, pro-business FDP party, Christian Lindner, who posted a picture of himself in an EU sweater on Instagram.

The caption included a winking smiley face and the message that “For me Europe is not only a continent, but another word for #freedom, #responsibility, diversity, openness and #tolerance”.

Then came Justice Minister Katarina Barley of the centre-left Social Democrats, who has in recent weeks been seen sporting a EUnify jumper on giant campaign posters.

Fashion historian Uta-Christiane Bergemann noted that the sweater allows pro-European candidates, whether from the right or left, “to convey a very direct and quickly understandable message”.

By wearing one, Barley “conveys a sociable and youthful impression”, Bergemann said, while also signalling that “she identifies so strongly with Europe that she will envelop herself in it”.

SEE ALSO: Dexit: One in 10 Germans in favour of leaving the EU

Some designers already dare to dream that the EU flag will become as iconic as the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack.

“At first we were quite alone, but now there are about 20 creators in this niche, and I think that's very good,” said Mallon, who noted that while the symbol is trendy in Berlin, it is subversive in many English cities.

Inevitably, the hoodie hype has sparked a backlash, with some critics likening it to the inflationary and empty use of the image of Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary.

“You can welcome so much cool love for Europe,” wrote one commentator in news weekly Die Zeit.

“Or you can ask whether you can really purchase a political attitude in an online shop with next-day delivery.”

 By Daphne Rousseau

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EUROPEAN UNION

KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Claims over the weekend that the EU planned to bring in a new tax which will nearly double the price of Swedish 'snus' tobacco led to the hashtag #Swexit trending over the weekend. But a commission spokesman stressed on Monday that the story was inaccurate.

KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Where does the claim come from? 

The Aftonbladet newspaper on Sunday ran a story based around a “secret, leaked” proposal from the European Commission for a new excise tax on tobacco which the newspaper claimed would be presented at the start of next month, with discussion then taking place between various EU member states. 

The article does not name a source or quote from or show any parts of the document, but it quotes Patrik Hildingsson, the head of communications at the snus producer Swedish Match, who it says has “received the coming report”. 

What was the reaction? 

The story generated a near viral response on Swedish Twitter. The Sweden Democrats party jumped on the story, with the Twitter account for the party’s EU MEPs tweeting using the hashtag #Swexit, which then started to trend. 

According to Charlie Weimers, one of the Sweden Democrats’ MEPs, the commission is proposing a 12.5 percent increase in tax on cigarettes, a 200 percent increase in taxes on snus, and 500 percent increase in taxes on tobacco-free snus.

In a way, this is unsurprising as snus is used by about 17 percent of people in Sweden. The tobacco product is made by grinding up tobacco with flavourings and other ingredients and placing it in small bags which are pushed under the upper lip. It has been linked to a higher incidence of mouth cancer, but is much less dangerous than smoking. 

Why is snus sensitive for Sweden? 

When Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, it was granted an exemption from the ban on oral tobacco products the European Union had brought in back in 1992. Companies are allowed to manufacture snus in Sweden and sell it to their citizens, but they are not allowed to sell snus in other EU counties.  

Is it true that the European Commission plans to force higher tax on snus? 

Dan Ferrie, a European spokesperson on tax issues, told the EU’s daily press briefing on Monday that the commission’s coming proposals on tobacco taxation would not affect Sweden’s freedom to tax the product. 

“Sweden has had an exemption since it entered the EU when it comes to the sale of snus,” he said. “The proposal that we are working on right now is not going to change that situation because the sale of snus is not permitted outside Sweden. Sweden ill as a result continue to have full freedom to set its own tax rate and tariffs for snus.” 

Already on Sunday, Sweden’s EU commissioner Ylva Johansson said that she had stressed to the commission developing the new proposals the “unreasonable consequences for Swedish snus” if it were to force a higher tax rate. 

“My judgement is that this proposal has not yet been developed to the level where it can be proposed,” she said in an sms to Swedish state TV broadcaster SVT. “Tax questions require unanimity within the Ministerial Council.”

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