There is a growing dissatisfaction in Central Europe with the amount of visual pollution in city centres, in the form of billboards and advertisements. Local authorities are finding ways to curb excesses or test creative branding solutions.


Shaping the future

In Brussels work is underway to prepare a Conference on the Future of Europe, which will see consultations and debate on what the EU should focus on and the means to achieve its priorities.

While much of the discussion so far has focused on who will take a leading role – Guy Verhofstadt or a different chair – and whether it will be organised as a top-down exercise or allow for the active involvement of citizens.

The Central European response to the idea of a conference has so far been muted. While the V4 countries have been active in keeping the question of enlargement on the agenda, as well as endeavouring for a similar amount of cohesion spending.

As our recent report Scenarios for cohesive growth shows, Central Europe appears ready to take a stronger role in discussions about the future of Europe.

The next big exercise on the future of Europe, however, may not even result in treaty change. As a consequence, it is difficult to see how the EU could radically change its activities or its processes.

Growth in average deals

The latest report on merger and acquisitions (M&A) in emerging Europe shows a mixed message when it comes to the V4. According to CMS, most countries from the region saw a decline in the volume of deals concluded in 2019, although the value of the average deal was up. This is particularly the case for Poland and Czechia, with several high-value deals, whereas Hungary saw a downward trend both in volume and value.

Retail and construction continue to be important building blocks for M&A activity in the region, which we reported on a couple of weeks ago. There is an interest in commercial real estate but also growth in demand for logistical centres and warehouses in the region.

Overall, CMS is optimistic about merger and acquisitions this year, driven by decent growth in the region (above the EU average). Only a slowdown outside of Europe, notably in East Asia, could spell trouble. However, there is sufficient local demand to offset such a possible downturn in Central Europe.

Curbing excesses

The city of Prague’s decision to curb all form of visual pollution (or ‘visual smog’) in the centre hits a sensitive nerve. Across Central Europe, excessive billboards, flashy advertisements and all types of street artists are a common view. While it may please advertisers and the occasional tourists, these forms of visual pollution do little to improve the image of a city centre.

It is not the first time that excessive advertisements and branding experiments have come under scrutiny. Several researchers from the region have felt the need to dedicate academic research to the phenomenon. While large billboards and colourful advertisements are not uncommon in other parts of the world, the presence of gigantic constructions – covering entire buildings and blocking the view of residents – is perceived as particularly habitual in the region.

A couple of years ago, one of the biggest banks in Slovakia decided to stop the usage of large billboards to advertise its brand.

Not every billboard needs to be a form of pollution, some can also do good. A couple of years ago, one company installed a large billboard in Warsaw that promised to filter the air.

Nevertheless, billboards have never managed to persuade citizens of its use. According to Michael Dembinski, based on a Warsaw poll a number of years ago, there is a large group in favour of a total ban or a number of restrictions (related to the size of the building).

How to resolve the matter of visual pollution? A total ban, restrictions or pressuring companies into changing behaviour may help. Or perhaps there are more creative solutions. For instance, the Royal Castle in Warsaw decided to turn its old advertising banners into bags.

Dr Quincy R. Cloet is Managing Editor of Visegrad Insight

Scenarios for cohesive growth

As of 2019 the negotiations about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will enter a critical moment. In the face of an imminent Brexit and the fallout from global turmoil, the EU has to reflect on its guiding principles and take decisions to fulfil the promise of a united Europe.

Download the report in PDF

The Visegrad/Insight is the main platform of debate and analysis on Central Europe. This report has been developed in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Launched on 1 October 2019 at the European #Futures Forum in Brussels.