It had become the flag of discord: a gigantic sail in the colours of Europe was installed under the Arc de Triomphe, to celebrate the start of the French presidency of the European Union on 1 January. However, the presence of the European flag alone, without the national flag (contrary to the choice made in 2008, during the last French presidency of the EU) diaturbed many Internet users, quickly joined by all the right-wing candidates for the presidential election.
“It was scheduled that the flag was to be taken down this Sunday, we hadn’t established an exact time”, Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio.
He dismissed the idea that the government had given in after far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Saturday said she would appeal to France’s Council of State to remove the EU flag.
Saturday evening, after a day marked by a dispute, the Parisian monument was still adorned with its large European flag, while bright spotlights illuminated the most famous arch in France in the bluish colors of Europe. But this Sunday morning, Parisians were able to see that the European flag had been withdrawn during the night, as noted by journalist Rémi Godeau, editor-in-chief at L’Opinion.
Was it hastily withdrawn due to the controversy? This morning, the Elysee denies having accelerated the withdrawal of the flag and ensures that the flagging of the Arc de Triomphe was planned only for the days of 31 December and 1 January.
On the other hand, the monument will continue to be illuminated in the colors of Europe for a week, like several other symbolic sites of the capital. On Saturday, Beaune declared that the European flag would be withdrawn in “a few days” and the French flag “obviously reinstalled”, defending an initiative “symbolic” as well as “temporary”.
On Twitter, Marine Le Pen hailed “a great patriotic victory at the dawn of 2022”, believing that “the government was forced to withdraw the flag”. She had announced the day before her intention to file an appeal for annulment and an interim suspension before the Council of State.
“The government has been forced to remove the EU flag from the Arc de Triomphe, a beautiful patriotic victory at the start of 2022”, Le Pen said on Sunday.
“We didn’t back down, there was no change of plan …I fully assume France’s destiny is in Europe,” Beaune said.
He said Le Pen and other leaders had got it all wrong when they said the EU flag had supplanted the French flag as the latter is not permanently displayed on the Arc de Triomphe.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has yet to say if he will run for re-election in April, defeated Le Pen in a 2017 run-off by 66%-34%.
Most opinion polls show there will be a rematch between the two in the upcoming presidential election, with Macron expected to win again, albeit with a slimmer margin.
Translated from French newspaper Le Figaro by Surajit Dasgupta