New Commission President calls for the Flag

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
New Commission President calls for the Flag

Ursula von der Leyen gave her first speech on 1 December as President of the European Commission. She said:

“Ten years ago, our predecessors were still discussing whether Europe should have a flag or an anthem. But in these ten years, millions of people have taken to the streets waving the European flag, our flag. And millions have been inspired and moved by the Ode to Joy, our European anthem.”

Why the hesitation? Where did the flag come from?

Brussels ‘stole’ the Flag

The politicians of the EU actually ‘took’ the flag from the Council of Europe, headquartered in Strasbourg. The flag of twelve stars on an azure field was introduced by the Council of Europe in 1955. Three decades later in 1985 the European leaders in Brussels adopted it but the flag does not appear in the Lisbon Treaty, except in a protocol.

Why couldn’t Brussels politicians create their own flag so that people could distinguish between Brussels politicians and Strasbourg, the guardian of human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law? That is for them to explain.

It has led to confusion between the two great European institutions and their powers.

All the early treaties were discussed in detail in the Council of Europe’s Consultative Assembly to determine that people’s civil rights were respected. Robert Schuman spoke there and explained how the Community system could be the most democratic system ever.

How does the Flag identify European values?

The Council of Europe was initiated by government action, fired by popular support for democracy after WW2. The proposal came from Robert Schuman’s first government in 1948, itself under attack by insurrectional forces of Left and Right. Schuman was a student of democracy and especially the American and British experience.

Creating a European Assembly and European rule of law was the innovatory means to help Europeans live in democratic peace and prevent further wars. In July 1948 Schuman’s foreign minister, Georges Bidault, had proposed two institutions: a European Assembly and a Customs Union. The Assembly took form in the Council of Europe. Its statute was signed in London at St James’s Palace on 5 May 1949.

Signatory agreement to the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was the entrance condition to an association of free, democratic countries where their citizens enjoyed human rights (as compared with the Soviet zone of Europe). Natural law and human rights are clearly values beyond the powers of ideologues like Communist apparatchiks. Citizens could appeal to the Convention’s Court in Strasbourg if they were subject to government abuse.

No country in the Soviet zone joined the Council of Europe. The Convention would expose the fact that the so-called ‘Democratic Republics‘ or ‘Peoples’ Republics‘ were a sham.

Democratic States of the Council of Europe, with Robert Schuman for France, signed the Convention in Rome on 4 November 1950. Where? In the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. Remember the address!

How does the flag embody European values?

The Convention was drafted by a British lawyer, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, and a French lawyer and ministerial colleague of Schuman, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, one of the cofounders of the newspaper Le Monde, and twice deputy prime minister. Maxwell-Fyfe had worked as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial of Nazis after the war. Teitgen had been a member of the French Resistance.

As Teitgen explained, the Convention was designed to stop unscrupulous politicians gradually seizing the democratic levers of power like the Nazi gangsters had.

What is behind the symbols?

The flag is simple and effective. Why does it have a sky blue field? Why twelve stars?

Vice president of the Consultative Assembly, Robert Bichet, was the rapporteur on the flag. He proposed a design with 15 gold stars on a field of blue. Bichet was a constitutionalist, an activist for a free press, and had been an information minister for PM Georges Bidault in 1946. He had worked with Teitgen on the clandestine press under the Occupation and after the war attended the 1948 Congress of Europe.

This number of stars was reduced to 12, because as Paul M G Levy the Belgian journalist put it to the Council’s Secretary General Leon Marchal:

“Twelve represents fulness; there were twelve tables of law in ancient Rome, twelve apostles, twelve sons of Jacob, twelve months of the year, twelve hours in the day, twelve signs of the Zodiac representing the entire universe… Twelve should represent the whole of Europe, whether the Iberian peninsula (then under dictatorships) and those behind the Iron Curtain.”

Marchal told Levy: ‘We have rediscovered the crown of the Woman of the book of Revelation.‘ The reference is to first verse in chapter 12 of the final book of the New Testament. Does this explain the sky-blue backdrop?

“Now a sign appeared in the heavens: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.”

Levy records that Schuman supported this design. Several years later in 1962 the same crown of twelve stars were to be seen shining out from the ceiling fresco of the hall of the Palazzo Barberini, the site of the signature of the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in November 1950.

The fresco, The Triumph of Divine Providence, was painted by Pietro da Cortona. It shows Providence surrounded by figures representing vices and virtues, good and evil. It includes Good Government banishing War and ensuring Peace.

Good government depends on honesty to the people — something that is lacking in the story of the Lisbon Treaty. Schuman said, the Convention and the willingness of States to adhere to the Convention defines Europe.

What is needed

The Founding Fathers such as Robert Schuman wrote that the “Councils, Committees and other bodies must be placed under the control of public opinion” (Pour l’Europe, p145). How can that happen when the Councils, the European Council etc close their doors on the public, the European Parliament has 28 national elections and not one European one, and the Consultative Committees are not elected?

The Lisbon Treaty reaffirms … “the Convention … of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the Council of Europe and the case-law… of the European Court of Human Rights”.

European Commission President von der Leyen, we await your support for the true meaning of the European flag!

David Heilbron Price

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