European Parliament politicians have been ordered to remove the national flags from the desks by European Parliament President David Sassoli, a move that many MEPs complained was as an attack and just the EU’s latest attack on national sovereignty.
Why? According to the new rules, national flags are considered “banners”, which are banned in the European Parliament.
Sassoli said he made the decision based on the provision in the rules of procedure, which deals with “disturbing order in the plenary room.”
Jan Zahradil, Czech MEP for Civic Democratic Party (ODS) said, “The European Parliament’s leadership has placed national flags decorating the parliamentary bench in the plenary room in the ‘banner’ category, but banners are forbidden to use in the plenary.”
“We (ODS) will not put the Czech flag on the bench, but we will protest against this stupid measure,” he added.
British MEP Nigel Farage also commented on the removal of national flags from the parliamentary benches, saying it is another attempt from Brussels to suppress the sovereignty of states.
“We have just had our Union Jack flags removed from our desks in the European Parliament, by order of the President. National symbols are now banned. Thank god for Brexit,” wrote Farage on his Facebook page.
Farage said last month that the EU’s anti-nationalism is leading to a revolt against its policies across Europe and that the flag ban is just the latest attempt to attack any symbol of the nationalist sentiment.
“People do not want to be run and governed by faceless bureaucrats… you’re being rejected,” said Farage in a statement direct at EU leaders. “…Brexit is the beginning of the end of this project, we are giving leadership to a Europe of sovereign states, working together, being friends together but not being run by the gang down at the middle there.”
Although the flag banning is a symbolic gesture, it speaks to a general trend in the European Parliament of anti-nationalism.
In the past, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has weighed in on the importance of the nation state and its relation to the EU, saying that “currently Brussels is ruled by those who want to replace the union of nation states with a European empire.”
Orbán continued by saying, “Europe is the home of nation states, not a melting pot.”
Not all MEPs were opposed. Czech MEP Dita Charanzová said that Sassoli has not imposed any ban.
“It’s not true, these rules have been in place for many years. The President of the European Parliament has only requested better compliance with the existing rules,” said Charanzová.
Another Czech MEP, Tomáš Zdechovský (KDU-ČSL), responded to Zahradil, saying that Zahradil can complain to the president of the European Parliament and call for a debate “or he can put the flag pin in the lapel of his suit. Personally, I like a clean table and I consider this issue petty.”
He added that there is no ban on using flag lapel pins.
Kateřina Konečná, MEP for the Communist Party (KSČM), warned that the flag ban is not wise as it will further strengthen the perception of the European Union as a rigid institution focused on “strict adherence to nonsensical rules”.
MEP Marcel Kolaja then said that Sassoli should first consult the issue with other MEPs, while MEP Jiří Pospíšil labeled the decision as a stretch and far-fetched.