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European Parliament declares war on national flags

For several weeks, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has asked for the withdrawal of the small flags from the hemicycle. His request has deeply irritated the Identity and Democracy group.

Published: February 8, 2020, 7:48 am

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    The flags of the European Parliament have become a thing of the past. In any case, this was decided by its president, David Sassoli, not by MEPs. His decision has caused an uproar in recent weeks in the Identity and Democracy (ID) camp.

    In an interview with Valeurs Actuelles on January 17, French MEP Jérôme Rivière had even castigated “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” abuses by the EU.

    Another MEP Thierry Mariani, contacted by the French magazine on Friday, February 7, also complained about the new measure. “It’s symbolic, but revealing. Our groups [Italian League, AfD, RN, Vlaams Belang, True Finns, etc] have a large part of their flags on their table. It has never been a problem until now, after part of the parliamentary office asked to ban them,” he said.

    The group is the fourth largest force in the EU Parliament, and the group ID intends to advance its nationalist image. “In one night, they stole everything from us. They want it to be buried, it is in line with the ideology of Parliament that there are only ‘Europeans’,” deplored the former minister.

    According to the president of the institution: the flags, which he called “banners or signs” have no place in the hemicycle, according to Sassoli.

    “The far left brought in certain banners with slogans […] but here it is different,” explained Thierry Mariani, who insisted on the specificity of the word “flag”.

    “English remains the benchmark in Parliament, while no state currently speaks this language. We have a regulation based on the English text,” said the MEP. “The flag is a specific banner,” he added.

    MEPs sometimes wave their flags in the plenary chamber to get attention, but the “unfurling of banners,” – which strangely includes national flags – is now banned.

    The president will now be able to prohibit any flag-waving MEP from “representing the Parliament on an interparliamentary delegation … for up to one year”.

    Thierry Mariani, who deplored “a simplification” of the word “flag”, is awaiting a clear answer from the French Academy: “Can a national flag be assimilated to a banner?”

    With Mariani’s colleague and MEP Jérôme Rivière, they sent a letter to Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy in order to clarify the linguistic meaning of the word “flag”.

    “Madame, the Perpetual Secretary, is a flag actually also a banner? Low Latin gives us ‘bandum’, which means flag, but time has apparently distinguished since between the fact of a religious procession and the national symbol,” they asked. A letter was also sent to Jean-Robert Pitte, Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences.

    This symbol that the parliament wants to take away from national representatives is a continuation of the policy that the parliament wants to follow,” said Mariani.

    “This is one more step, everything is done to remove the concept of nation in the hemicycle. Everything is done for the European Union […] We must no longer be a Frenchman, but a European,” he said. Mariani noted in passing that the flags of the 27 member states are always present behind the President of the Parliament. The latter however has now prohibited anyone who does not remove the small flags from their desk from speaking.

    Jérôme Rivière, Member of the European Parliament and chairman of the French delegation of the Identity and Democracy group in the European Parliament, explained why he refused to submit to an order from the President of the Parliament, David Sassoli when he ordered the flags of the different European nations, which were placed in the hemicycle on the desks of the elected officials, to disappear.

    For years already, MEPs have been able to sit in Parliament by placing a small flag of their country on their desks.

    After the president’s “repeated requests” to withdraw these flags, members arriving at this session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, were surprised to discover that their flags had been removed from their desks at the request of Sassoli, an “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” move.

    The major overhaul of the European Parliament’s 297-page “rules of procedure” have slipped under the radar of the media, given that few journalists reporting on the Parliament take an interest in the regulations that MEPs must abide by.

    There have been other changes too, such as written declarations from MEPs to underscore the important issues that face their constituents.

    Such declarations have no legal value since they represent the opinions only of their authors and signatories. Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner, who has campaigned for their elimination, told Politico that these declarations take too much time away from important legislative work. From next month, therefore, they will be gone.

    MEPs have asked the Commission around 8 600 questions since the beginning of the year on issues including immigration, border control and Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s controversial comments on Chinese diplomats.

    But written questions are regarded by the executive as a waste of time and money — not least by Commission officials tasked with responding to them, according to Politico.

    From next month, MEPs will be able to submit a maximum of only 20 questions “over a rolling period of three months”. A new type of question has also been created, which can trigger a plenary debate but must have the support of a committee, a political group or around 40 MEPs before being submitted, which will increase lobbying efforts – already a headache for the EU.

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