A flag for everyone, a flag for us

, by Pierre Le Mouel, Translated by Lorène Weber

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

A flag for everyone, a flag for us
The European flag is not only a symbol of a political entity that one likes or not, it is above all the symbol of a Europe united by shared values. CC World Bank Photo Collection

In parliamentary commission in France, the MPs of the “France Insoumise” (“Unbowed France”) party proposed an amendment willing the removal of the European flag from the French National Assembly. Beyond being the symbol of the European Union, the blue flag and its twelve stars represents values, a common identity.

The “France Insoumise” group created a controversy on Wednesday 4th October by presenting in Law Commission an amendment to the standing orders of the National Assembly. This amendment aimed at allowing in the Palais Bourbon’s hemicycle only the French Republic’s tricoloured flag and the United Nations’ flag, considering that it was necessary to overtake regionalism and that the UN represented the ideal model of intergovernmental cooperation. This proposition results from a sovereigntist, nationalist and even Europhobic logic. Moreover, the “Front National” group in the Assembly supported the text. However, this vehement position can allow us to think about what the flags we see floating in our streets and on our public buildings’ facades represent.

A symbol of Europe united by values

First of all, lashing out at this blue flag and its twelve yellow stars is ambiguous. If it is indeed a symbol of the European Union, it is above all the symbol of Europe, in every sense. It was drawn and adopted in 1955 by the Council of Europe, an international organisation of cooperation gathering 47 European States and functioning on the same model as the UN. The European Community adopted this flag as its symbol in 1986, following the invitation of the Council of Europe. Despite the functional opposition between these two organisations (the EU functioning on the principle of federation, and the Council of Europe on the principle of intergovernmental cooperation), they gather together around European identity and European values: values which are written in the European Convention on Human Rights defending the fundamental rights to which the European Union adheres. The flag with stars we now know well is thus not only the symbol of a political entity that one likes or not, it is above all the symbol of a Europe united by shared values. The Polish government has especially opposed to these values by withdrawing the European flag from its institutions and by adopting laws opposed to fundamental liberties.

Why deny France’s EU membership?

Every flag is a uniting symbol, because it is visible and identifiable. It serves to define a belonging: belonging to the French State, to a region or to an organisation for example. This is the first reason to maintain the European flag on public buildings: France, until shown proof of the contrary, is a full member of the European Union (and of the Council of Europe), in the same way as regional administrations display the French flag as they belong to the French State. And nothing prevents them from waving their own flag next to the tricoloured one. Identities do not cancel each other out. The European ideal visible in the Balkans, in Cyprus, in Ireland, in Gibraltar or more simply between France and Germany, has showed that despite our administrations divided by nations and all the symbols representing them, we all are citizens of the same continent, sharing a common History and mixed cultures for millenia. This is what the European flag symbolises. It symbolises the smaller common denominator which brings us closer together, from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.

Beyond the simple historic or aesthetic curiosity (the European flag is elegant, it has to be admitted), flags serve to make obvious our belonging to a group. To my guests’ surprise, in my home, a Breton flag stands alongside a European flag. This is, to my mind, the symbol of my familial identity but also to my adhesion to European ideals, and even to the European construction, previously unseen in my opinion. It has allowed us to put some sense back to local and regional identities, by recognizing that the foundations of what some called Nation a century ago, exist in Europe and bring us together beyond local and familial traditions. Some felt proud to display the very young tricolour flag representing the Republic, democracy, and freedom. Others feel proud to serve under the tricolour flag. As for me, I feel proud to see, in the streets of Paris or of other European cities, the European flag waving. It reminds me, in Germany, in Cyprus, in Croatia, as well as in Paris, that I am free, citizen and European, wherever I go as long as this flag is waving.

Mister Mélenchon, you introduce yourself as an internationalist, but you refuse the symbol of the most tangible coming together of peoples in history. You consider the European Union as your main enemy, to such an extent that you want to eliminate its symbols. It denotes either your lack of knowledge on the symbolism of the flag you are vilifying, or that you do not adhere to the fundamental liberties and humanist values carried out by this flag. This circle of golden stars on a deep blue is my flag, as much as it is the flag of my friends, in France and Navarre. The UN flag represents an organisation where my State is represented; the European flag represents institutions which represent me.

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