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.