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10th Apr 2021

MEPs defy member states on EU symbols

The European Parliament is considering flying the EU flag and playing the EU anthem more often in its own buildings as part of a political message to member states who have scrapped the union's symbols from the proposed new EU treaty.

The parliament on Wednesday (11 July) adopted its opinion on the EU's reform treaty which was agreed by EU leaders last month and which will be subject to detailed negotiations in a so-called Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) in the coming months.

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In Wednesday's opinion, MEPs welcomed the fact that the reform treaty blueprint "safeguards much of the substance" of the original EU constitution, which was rejected in popular referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

But the EU assembly also "regrets" drafting changes in the new style treaty. It has been stripped of all constitutional elements while explicitly suggesting EU's powers can be limited and handed back to member states. It also gives the UK a special opt-out from the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

MEPs are particularly irked about the disappearance from the treaty text of the EU's 12 star flag and Beethoven's Ode to Joy – which were given official status as EU symbols in the failed EU constitution.

In a bid to defy member states on the symbolic issue, the parliament says in its opinion that it intends to give "official character" to the EU's flag and anthem in its own internal rulebooks. Some senior MEPs eye a more frequent use of the unions symbols in official ceremonies in the parliament itself.

German social democrat MEP Jo Leinen, who drafted the report, told EUobserver "so far the anthem is not being officially used in the parliament - at least I rarely heard it in the seven years I've been here."

"If we have it in the rules of procedure, we could play it when we have visits of foreign delegation or during celebrations," he added.

"Why not give the parliament, which has been directly elected by European citizens, an avant-garde role in doing this? That way, those who somehow hope that the flag and anthem would disappear would see themselves confronted with the opposite."

The idea has also caught the interest of parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering who told EU leaders at their June summit that he was "moved" to hear Beethoven's Ode to Joy being played for him when he was recently received in the Israeli parliament.

If the Israeli Knesset is willing to play the EU anthem, the European parliament should perhaps consider doing the same when welcoming foreign visitors, Mr Poettering suggested when speaking at a young journalists event in Brussels last month.

Mr Poettering's spokeswoman said he had already informally raised the idea with political group leaders in the EU parliament adding that the parliament chief "might" formally table a proposal at a later stage.

UK opt-out 'dramatic'

Apart from the EU symbols issue, MEPs in their report also voiced other criticism on the simplified treaty blueprint prepared by the former German EU presidency.

An opt-out from the EU's right charter by would be a "dramatic set-back" which would cause "serious damage to the EU's inner most sense of identity", the report says – without explicitly mentioning the UK, which secured the opt-out during the June summit, or Ireland and Poland which might make the same move in the IGC talks.

MEPs also regret "various" drafting changes in the new treaty text, which "give an impression of distrust vis-a-vis the union and its institutions" – a reference to the raft of protocols and declarations designed to safeguard member states' competencies against Brussels interference.

Meanwhile, the parliament is also keen to ensure that it will not lose out in the IGC negotiations itself, with the opinion paper expressing concern that member states could undermine MEPs' powers to control the European Commission in its daily work.

The conference of political group leaders in the parliament is set on Thursday to appoint three representatives to take part in the IGC and defend the assembly's interests. The nominated candidates are German conservative MEP Elmar Brok, Spanish socialist Enrique Baron Crespo and UK liberal Andrew Duff.

The trio will attend the IGC's ministerial meetings, while parliament chief Poettering is set to take part in meetings at heads of state and government level.

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