The so-called ‘symbols of the Union’, namely the EU flag, anthem and motto, were formally recognised by the European Parliament yesterday (8 October).
The symbols, which were a central feature of the defeated European Constitution but subsequently removed from the Lisbon Treaty to increase its likelihood of Europe-wide ratification, were recognised by a large majority of MEPs (503 to 96).
The initiative for this symbolic resurrection came from the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee (AFCO). MEPs are aiming to send “a clear political message to European citizens”.
However, a vocal minority, including a prominent AFCO member, expressed disapproval of the measure and the message it sends out.
British Conservative MEP and AFCO Vice Chairman Timothy Kirkhope labelled the move “unnecessary, provocative and a waste of time and money,” adding that “symbols and anthems are often used to promote nationhood, but many MEPs still do not understand that people do not want to be part of a European nation”. “The inclusion of the anthem and EU symbols in the Parliament’s functioning highlights the federalist intentions of a number of MEPs.”
In practice, the vote means that:
- The EU flag will be displayed in all Parliament meeting rooms and at official parliamentary events.
- The anthem, based on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, is to be performed at the opening ceremony following each European election and at formal sittings.
- The EU motto, ‘United in diversity’, will be reproduced on all Parliament’s official documents.
- The celebration of Europe Day on 9 May is recognised in Parliament’s rules of procedure.
A number of MEPs expressed disapproval of the symbolic move given the “sensitivity” of the current impasse in Ireland after the Lisbon Treaty defeat. Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott, a well-known opponent of the Lisbon Treaty, said it “was not the right moment” for the Parliament to send out such a message. Consevative Party representatives, speaking to EURACTIV, also described the issue as “self-indulgent,” noting that “we need to be careful in what we’re portraying”.
Meanwhile, British Socialist MEP Richard Corbett described these reactions as a “storm in a teacup”. His Spanish colleaque Carlos Carnero praised the vote, declaring: “The symbols of the Union are alive in the institution that represents 500 million inhabitants.”