EU flag affair: Macron shows his colours

At the start of the new year, French President Emmanuel Macron had an EU flag hoisted at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to mark the beginning of France's EU presidency. But because the French tricolour was not hoisted alongside the EU flag, the conservative and right-wing opposition condemned the gesture as an attack on France's national identity. Europe's press discusses the affair, also in view of the French presidential election to be held in April.

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Slate (FR) /

A tactical faux pas

Macron did not do himself any favours by hanging the EU flag from the Arc de Triomphe, says Slate:

“The outgoing president won't win any federalist votes with this display since they're all Macronists. Instead, the action could disrupt the start of the presidential campaign and the future candidate risks losing a section of the electorate that doesn't like it when you play around with their traditions and symbols. Especially if it seems that it's all about making a buzz.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Not without the French flag too

The French don't like to see the EU flag all on its own, columnist Luuk van Middelaar points out in NRC Handelsblad:

“This symbolic political banter reminds Macron that France's love for Europe has its limits. France in Europe - there's plenty of support for that. But not for a Europe without France. So in future it would be better to have both flags flying side by side. At the same time, it has been clear from the very first day that this French EU Presidency cannot be seen in isolation from the upcoming presidential election in April. ... Macron sees Europe as an area of culture and civilisation and is trying to connect with artists, authors and intellectuals. Hence the flags.”

Le Point (FR) /

Gold and blue now symbolise resistance

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy stresses in Le Point the importance of Europe showing its colours:

“The counter-empire of Europe is the only serious, adequate and credible response to the rise of the mammoths of neo-Russian and neo-Chinese imperialism. ... Europe is not a nation. Its flag, which stands for liberal democracy, obliterates nothing in its wake and never swears false oaths. It is a sign of the solidarity of those who do not want to resign themselves to their announced departure from history. Emmanuel Macron was right: by hanging a gold and azure flag in a place that stands for the greatness of France, we prove our vitality - and our resistance.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

An opportunity for Macron and Morawiecki

Rzeczpospolita says the French EU Council presidency provides a favourable opportunity for Poland to settle its rule-of-law conflict with the EU:

“A large part of the French electorate has become strongly Eurosceptic and backs Mateusz Morawiecki's team in the dispute with Brussels. Settling this dispute would take the wind out of the sails of Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse - the president's most dangerous rivals. In the six months during which France holds the EU presidency Macron could sell such a success as proof that the French are still capable of running the EU effectively.”

El País (ES) /

Paris could take the lead

If he makes clever use of the opportunities, Macron could deliver a strong presidency, El País concludes:

“France is taking on the EU presidency in the knowledge that 2022 will be 'a turning point' for Europe. ... Like Germany, France is in a position to provide strong leadership, using the European response that has emerged during the pandemic as a model and leverage, also for digital and environmental investments. However, Macron's mandate could be complicated by the French elections or the spread of the omicron variant. He will need a little more than just political audacity to avoid being accused of exploiting the French EU presidency for his election campaign.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Using Europe to score points on the domestic front?

Macron wants to use success at the European level to his advantage in the French election campaign, De Volkskrant writes:

“In almost all areas, Europe is moving in France's direction: more political leadership, more investment. The era of cheerful free trade is over, that of big politics is returning. ... Macron now has a tailwind. ... At the end of his first term in office, the message must be that France has made a lot of progress in Europe. But will success in Europe also bring votes? France has moved much more to the right in recent years. ... None of the right-wing candidates want a Frexit. ... But just like many French voters, they consider France's identity more important than European cooperation.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Macron's offensive is not without risks

The French president is counting on Europe as a trump card for his re-election, Der Standard speculates:

“It looks like Macron has geared himself up for a Europe 2.0 election campaign. There is no major issue on which he isn't trying to push his European partners. A migration package, the defence summit, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, EU social offensives, minimum wages, treaty reforms, economic stimulus, etcetera, etcetera. Full speed ahead with Europe! The offensive is not without risks. But Macron can be confident that in the end the French will pin their hopes on Europe. Will he also be able to convince recalcitrant EU partners? That is what he must now prove.”

El País (ES) /

Don't forget Europe's two southern powerhouses

El País finds the dominance of the Paris-Berlin axis in European leadership annoying:

“France and Germany should be complemented by Italy and Spain, because this quadrangle brings together the Union's major options and accounts for around two-thirds of its economy and population. ... In recent weeks certain European leaders have admitted to cases of corruption and money laundering that have discredited their leaders and led to their replacement. ... In view of these facts, it seems advisable to avoid hardening positions and fragmenting the EU. Preparatory work within the framework of the four most important EU countries promises better results, and Spain leans discreetly and pertinently towards backing this internal logic.”