Decidedly, the European flag has been talked about for a week. Installed last Saturday under the Arc de Triomphe to mark the start of the French presidency of the European Union, it caused an uproar in the political class. On the right as on the left, many were those to be scandalized by the absence of the tricolor at his side.
Starting with Valérie Pécresse (LR), for whom this gesture shows that “Macron has a problem with the history of France”. Friday morning, Michel Barnier, his Europe and World advisor, returned to the controversy at the microphone of France Info. “What shocked me is not the European flag, it is that there is not the French flag next to it,” explained the former Brexit negotiator for the EU.
If, for him, “the two flags go together”, he did not go so far as to say that it was an absolute rule, unlike others. In a press release published last Saturday, Marine Le Pen (RN) said that the deployment of the only European flag contravened “the fundamental principle recognized by the laws of the Republic, according to which the national emblem must always float on public buildings” . For his part, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI) underlined Monday that there is “a decree which prohibits flags without the national colors”. Are they right or wrong?
“No binding text”
According to Jean-Paul Pancracio, an emeritus professor of public law interviewed by the AFP, “There is no binding text that governs this issue of flagging”. As our colleagues have noted, the Ministry of the Interior has already recalled it in the past, through two written responses dated 2011 and 2014. “No legislative or regulatory text sets the rules for flagging”, indicated Beauvau at the time.
“The flagging of public buildings constitutes a highly symbolic operation which is not, however, the subject of any regulatory text”, confirmed in 2018 the Ministry of the Armed Forces in a note. In other words, no “law of the Republic” and no “decree” oblige the double flag, contrary to what the candidates of the extreme right and extreme left affirm.
There is indeed a circular, No. 246 of May 4, 1963, which recalls that “the tricolor remains the only emblem that should be displayed on public buildings for the celebration of national holidays”, but it has no binding value. Above all, if we take the sentence backwards, we understand that outside of national holidays, it is possible to deploy only the flag with the twelve stars on public buildings.
What usage wants
But if we abandon the law to focus on the practice, things become more complicated. As the Ministry of the Interior noted in 2011 and 2014, it is in reality “the republican custom and tradition” which must be “taken into consideration”.
According to a “protocol for mayors” published by the Ministry of the Interior in 2020, “the French tricolor is the only compulsory emblem that should be displayed on buildings and public buildings” on the occasion of national ceremonies, the reception of heads of Foreign state and official bereavements. If “the flagging of public buildings is not compulsory”, “Republican custom is that the national flag permanently adorns the facade of public buildings. “
As for the European flag, it must be “placed on public buildings on May 9, Europe Day”. The rest of the time, “this flag is free”. But the protocol specifies that the European flag must be “placed to the right of the French flag”, which “occupies the place of honor”. Clearly, custom dictates that the European flag is always accompanied by the French one.