French authorities took down a temporary installation of the European Union flag from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday after Right-wing opponents of Emmanuel Macron, the French president, accused him of “erasing” French identity.
The giant flag was raised in place of a French flag on New Year’s Eve to mark France’s turn at the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which it will hold for the next six months.
The arch, a monument to war dead, and other landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon are also being illuminated with blue lights.
But Mr Macron’s Right-wing rivals for the presidential election, which is four months away, seized on the removal of the tricolor and called it an affront to France’s heritage and veterans.
“Preside over Europe yes, erase French identity no!” tweeted Valerie Pecresse, the conservative candidate, who according to polls could be the main challenger to Mr Macron in the forthcoming vote. She urged him to restore the French flag, saying: “We owe it to our soldiers who spilled their blood for it.”
Flag’s removal ‘was in line with planned schedule’
Marine Le Pen, the far-Right candidate who had vowed to file a complaint with the State Council, France’s highest court for administrative matters, also denounced the move.
Eric Zemmour, a far-Right media pundit who is also running against Mr Macron, called it “an insult”.
On Sunday, Ms Le Pen called the overnight removal of the EU flag “a great patriotic victory” and claimed on Twitter that a “massive mobilisation” had forced Mr Macron to backpedal.
But an official in the French presidency said the flag’s removal before dawn was “in line with the planned schedule”, insisting that, unlike the blue lights for monuments, it was only supposed to be at the Arc for two days.
Clement Beaune, France’s Europe Minister – who on Saturday accused Mr Macron’s opponents of “desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right” – also denied any “retreat”, telling France Inter Radio: “We embrace Europe, but that doesn’t take anything away from our French identity.”
Mr Beaune said the decision to remove the flag during the night had been made by officials at the agency in charge of national monuments.
A presidency official, who asked not to be named, could not say when the French flag would fly again under the Arc but noted that it was not a permanent feature of the monument.