"In 2008 I hope to see the EU Member State teams in Beijing carry the flag of the European Union alongside their own national flag as a symbol of our unity," says the outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi.
Prodi's Commission spokesperson Reijo Kemppinen said to EurActiv that this was merely a "hope" at this stage. Education and Culture spokesperson Frederic Vincent said that he had seen the Greek fencing team fly both their national and the EU flag during the Games. He stressed that there was no legal basis for the EU to be involved in the organisational aspects of the Games and that this was up to the International Olympic Committee, national sports federations and national authorities.
Reacting to the news, Dutch MEP Toine Manders says "sport is an excellent instrument to identify your self as citizen of a certain member state. In an ever-enlarging Europe, people feel more and more the need to identify themselves as a country rather than as a very large unity which is experienced as anonymous and threatening".
One of the EU's main contributions to the Games was the 'Olympic Champions of Education', in which one participant from each country involved in the project joined the Olympic Youth Camp. To be eligible, athletes had to have both won a national level award in their discipline and have excellent marks at school.
In addition, the EU has provided structural funds to help Greece in constructing infrastructure which has helped spectators and competitors enjoy the Games.
Supporters justify the presence of the EU flag as a "symbol of unity" while critics say that citizens see Olympics in terms of nationalities and it should stay that way. Various reports have emerged claiming that "the EU won a third of the gold medals", 82 out of the 286 on offer. A German MEP, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, is conducting an online poll of citizens on whether or not sportspeople from EU countries should compete in 2008 in Beijing "unter einem gemeinsamen Erscheinungsbild" [effectively "under a common flag"].