Hornets are predators that use their stinger to overpower other insects. As you know, they also use it to defend themselves and their larvae. The stingers are not barbed, and can sting multiple times. Hornets do not sting when they are not provoked, however, especially in the immediate vicinity of the nest, they respond quickly and effectively if they feel threatened, and especially if the nest is touched.
As for the seriousness of the stings, it is the same as with the honey bee, and you should take the same precautions if stung. However, there is no stinger to remove.
Because of its size and deep humming sound, the European hornet can seem threatening. Many feel that getting stung by this hornet equals certain death. However, it is not more venomous than its smaller relatives, but, naturally, it holds more venom. A rule of thumb is that a European Hornet sting corresponds to two of the smaller species’ sting.
Moreover, most confrontations with hornets take place during the autumn when eating or drinking sweet things outdoors. The risk is greatest when drinking from bottles, as hornets can fall into the bottles and are not able to see them.