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The truth about EU flag flap

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Several newspapers today claim that the UK has heroically resisted European Commission efforts to force it to fly the EU flag in Whitehall (Pickles downs the EU flag, Daily Telegraph; Pickles lowers the EU flag in Whitehall, Daily Mail; Fly the flag for the UK, Daily Express).

The real story is rather less dramatic.

Member States had indeed agreed – the Daily Mail’s reference to “a diktat” is silly – in 2007 that the EU flag would be flown for a week around 9 May, Europe Day, in front of the managing authorities for EU structural funds.

Until recently in the UK- and as in most other Member States – these authorities were based in the regions themselves, until the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) centralised operations in 2011 and appointed itself the managing authority for England.

So in the last couple of years, it has flown the flag for a week at the DCLG office just off Victoria street – which pedants may point out is not in Whitehall.

Last December the Commission proposed a more flexible approach and Member States – including the UK – have now agreed to these revisions.

These mean that Mr Pickles can indeed now choose to acknowledge cooperation at EU level and the source of the funding through a sticker or a plaque with the EU emblem instead.

This is a practice familiar in the UK where most EU funded projects happily acknowledge the fact and plaques acknowledging support from the UK’s own Lottery fund can be seen on the steps at Trafalgar Square.

Sources who prefer anonymity are quoted by the papers that they “will pin the flag in an empty room in the basement”. Some may find somewhat baffling this hostility to acknowledging successful cooperation with partners in agreeing EU-wide priorities for structural funding and then successfully delivering major projects. Neither the EU’s 27 other national governments – many of whom routinely fly the EU flag – nor the authorities in English regions nor Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland generally seem to share this approach of denigrating their own success.

In any case, DCLG can hardly stick in its basement London’s Crossrail, the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle, the Eden project in Cornwall or the new Graphene Institute in Manchester – to give just a few examples of what EU funding has supported or is currently supporting in the UK.

It is worth remembering, too, that much of the EU regional funding spent in other Member States – not least on infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe – has benefitted UK companies through procurement contracts, better and faster access to new markets and increased economic prosperity and thus demand for UK exports.

The EU is not forcing the UK to abolish or change national birth certificates

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

The weekend of 10 August saw a series of misleading articles* in the UK press alleging – depending on exactly which fanciful article one chose to read – that the European Commission intends to force the UK to introduce EU birth certificates bearing the EU flag, force the removal of the Crown image currently used and/or abolish national certificates altogether.

These assertions are wrong. The Commission proposals to which the articles ostensibly refer – to which the newspapers concerned had access – show in black and white that these reports do not reflect reality.

At the centre of this maelstrom is a Commission proposal on the certification of public documents

The core idea is that member states should recognise each other’s basic documents – like birth and marriage certificates for individuals or legal entities for companies – without the need for special stamps or legalisation. Currently, such a special certification stamp – called an apostille – is needed to prove the authenticity of a document. Legalisation is required to certify that the signatures on it are genuine. The cost of these provisions – dating from an era when countries only trusted public documents when they were certified by another country’s foreign ministry – is estimated at £284 million (€330 million) per year. Much of this cost falls on UK citizens who want to move, work, or buy property or set up businesses elsewhere in the EU.

So the Commission’s proposal looks to abolish unnecessary, outdated and costly red tape. It is ironic therefore that the same newspapers which continuously lambast the EU for allegedly creating red tape seem to find the proposal so offensive.

The main focus in the proposal is on mutual recognition by Member States of existing national documents. Contrary to the claims made in the articles, the additional option of standardised EU forms would be just that: optional.

Those people and businesses who find the EU format would save them time and money would be able to request them. For example, if a British business operates across the EU they may wish to have a standardised form, so as to confirm their legal entity in different countries more easily. The forms would not replace national forms which will continue to exist.

The proposal followed a Green Paper and extensive public consultation running from 2010-11, to which the House of Lords, Law Society, Notaries Society of England & Wales, Family Education Trust and Registers of Scotland, among others, all contributed. The overwhelming response was that standard forms would help people and companies get their documents recognised more easily. In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey , 74% of Brits said they were in favour of standard formats for civil status documents in all EU member states, 77% were in favour of automatic recognition and 81% in favour of better mechanisms for translating them.

Negotiations on the proposals have only just started in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – where UK MEPs and Cabinet Ministers sit and will have their say in how the final EU legislation will look. The implication in some newspapers that the Lisbon Treaty somehow means that the proposals could be forced on the UK by an arbitrary decision by the Commission is simply false.

Of course, any Commission proposal should be debated, scrutinised and criticised in the media, based on what it actually contains. If UK voices criticise an EU initiative, the media are right to report that, scrutinising with equal rigour both the proposal itself and the criticisms expressed.

However, in this case some newspapers seem to have simply abandoned objectivity and balance in pursuit of a convenient anti-EU story.

They have not given a fair reflection of proposals that have been widely supported in an open consultation and that will ultimately save British people and businesses money. Using a short quote from the Commission at the end of a long article after a lurid headline and a dozen alarmist paragraphs does not constitute balance.

Some media concerned have also – not for the first time – ignored the basic principles of EU decision-making, under which EU laws are not imposed by “Brussels” but are agreed and adopted by the European Parliament and the Member States.

*For example: Anger over plot to put EU flag on birth certificates”, Daily Express, 10 August;“Stamped with the EU flag from cradle to grave”, Daily Mail, 10 August; “B-EU-rths’ and deaths”, The Sun, 10 August, “EU puts its flag on British birth and death certificates”, The Daily Telegraph.

“Brussels” is not forcing Eric Pickles to fly an EU flag on a flagpole outside his office

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Contrary to the Mail on Sunday story (25 June) repeated by the Daily Express on 26 June, Brussels has not “demanded” that the Department for Communities and Local Government flies the EU flag on one of its two flagpoles all year round. As was made very clear to the Mail on Sunday before it published the story, and as Mr Hahn wrote in a letter to Minister Eric Pickles, the proposal would “not require the EU flag to be flown on a flagpole in front of the premises…”.  The EC is proposing only that Member States’ managing authorities for EU regional funding display an EU flag in a place visible to the public – inside or outside the relevant building – as a symbol of partnership in investing EU structural funds, which aim primarily to create jobs. It is now up to Member States, including the UK, in the Council to decide whether to agree to that proposal. As Mr Hahn pointed out in the letter, no other national Minister has so far registered any objection. Most managing authorities already fly the EU flag alongside their national and sometimes regional ones. As for the Mail on Sunday’s claim that Brussels has “offered to buy Britain a flagpole” this was a handwritten comment by Mr Hahn at the end of his personal letter to Mr Pickles, suggesting lightheartedly that Mr Hahn would fund a third flagpole from his own pocket if Mr Pickles wanted to fly the EU flag from it. The Express did not seek comment from the Commission before repeating the Mail on Sunday story.

Mark English, Head of Media
European Commission Representation in the UK

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Mail regarding today’s EU stories

Friday, November 11th, 2011

“After Fifa poppy fiasco, the latest bright idea from Brussels? EU flag on England shirts” Daily Mail, 11 November 2011

“How Brussels blew £3.7bn of taxpayers’ cash on energy, agriculture and transport”
Daily Mail, 11 November 2011

Dear Sir

Some clarifications on EU stories. First, there are not and never will be measures “stipulating” that sports teams should wear the EU flag or that Wembley or Lords should fly it. Second, the EU Court of Auditors report did not say “Brussels squandered £3.7 billion”. It said 96% of EU spending was free from error and that 90% of errors were made at national level – including in the UK – not by “Brussels”. Furthermore, the European Commission vigorously claws back mis-spent money. And many errors were procedural and concern otherwise succesful projects. So this is a serious matter but does not mean £3.7 billion was wasted.

Mark English
Head of Media, European Commission Office in London

Letter to Daily Express on EU symbol on national sport strips

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

A letter sent by the European Parliament office to the Daily Express in answer to their article about “Brussels” “forcing” national teams to wear the EU symbol. It is worth pointing out that the report being discussed today is looking at ways to respond to pan-European challenges such as in the fight against violence and racism in sport, doping, encouraging good governance in sport, and helping associations establish mechanisms for the collective selling of media rights to ensure adequate redistribution of revenues.

Your front page story today contains a number of very misleading statements and basic inaccuracies.
As we have already made clear to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, when it first published this story several days ago, “Brussels” is not forcing British teams to wear the EU flag now, nor is it remotely likely to do so ever.

A single Spanish MEP has at this stage floated a suggestion.
The report referred to by both the Daily Telegraph and your publication  will not be voted on by the committee today, this week or next – this is scheduled for  October – and it is unlikely to be voted on by the European Parliament as a whole till November at least.
It can be amended at every stage of the process, making it possible for MEPs to oppose the suggestion that players should wear the EU flag on their shirts.
Even if the whole Parliament ended up endorsing the report in its entirety this would simply constitute the basis for a request to the European Commission to come up with a legislative proposal which would then have to be agreed by EU ministers as well as MEPs.
Best regards,
Paola Buonadonna
Press Attachée

European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdom

Letter to the Editor of The Daily Express re article ‘EU flag rules: We’re poles apart’ on 4th May 2011

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Regarding your front page of today, only 2 buildings in the UK are expected to fly the European flag for Europe Day and the Commission would not fine countries that did not do so. The rules that make this provision were passed in 2006 by all EU countries, including the UK. No other public building has to fly the flag on 9 May though some may choose to do so. Some schools want to do something to mark the day and ask us for ideas. We send these purely on demand and they in no way constitute “instructions”.

Jonathan Scheele, Head of European Commission Representation in the UK
Michael Shackleton, Head of European Parliament Information Office in the UK

UPDATE (5:30pm) – The Editor of The Daily Express have declined to publish our letter

Re ‘Brussels fines us £150m for failing to fly the EU flag’ – The Daily Mail (8th July 2010)

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Letter to the Managing Editor of The Daily Mail, sent 8th July 2010


Your article “Brussels fines us £150m for failing to fly the EU flag” is wrong. The EU has not “fined” the UK GBP150m and most definitely not in regards to displaying or not the EU flag.

The legal provisions adopted by the EU member states (the UK included) ask them to comply with certain minimum requirements on publicity and this includes the display of the EU logo on a permanent plaque. However, there have been no issues with the UK in this respect. 

Yours sincerely

Antonia Mochan

Head of Media
European Commission Representation, London

Brussels imposes EU flag on car number plates

Thursday, August 5th, 1999

Daily Mail, p19, 5 August 1999
European-style car number plates are being legalised in Britain – but they must bear the blue 12-star EU flag and not our own national symbols. Brussels-imposed rules mean the plates…cannot have a Union Flag, the cross of St George, a Scottish saltire, or a Welsh dragon instead.

This is misleading. The design of car registration plates remains entirely in the control of national governments. There is absolutely no compulsion to show an EU emblem. A Regulation from 1998, implementing part of a 1968 UN-backed Convention, does establish a model for the design of registration plates which is intended to ensure mutual recognition of Member States’ insignia, but it applies only to those Member States which choose to adopt it. That an EU style design is now permitted for cars registered in the UK was the decision of the British Government and is neither ‘Brussels-imposed’ nor ‘a step towards federalism by stealth’.

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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