French authorities on Sunday removed a large European Union flag attached to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris after right-wing and far-right opponents of President Emmanuel Macron accused him of “erasing” French identity.
“Preside over Europe yes, erase French identity no!” tweeted Valerie Pecresse, the conservative candidate for the Republicans. Polls indicate she could be the primary challenger to Macron in the upcoming vote.
On Friday, Pecresse called on Macron to restore the French flag at the iconic war monument.
“We owe it to our soldiers who spilled their blood for it,” she said.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised the removal of the flag on Sunday as a win for the far right. A day earlier, she had threatened to appeal to France’s Council of State to remove the flag.
“The government has been forced to remove the EU flag from the Arc de Triomphe, a beautiful patriotic victory at the start of 2022,” Le Pen said on Sunday.
She claimed on Twitter that a “massive mobilization” had forced Macron to take down the EU flag — a notion that was dismissed by the French government.
How did the Macron administration respond?
The flag had been set up as a temporary installation on New Year’s Eve to mark the start of France’s six-month presidency of the EU.
European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, who on Friday had said the flag would stay for “several days,” maintained it had been taken down as planned.
“It was scheduled that the flag was to be taken down this Sunday, we hadn’t established an exact time,” Beaune told France Inter radio.
Beaune, however, said the government didn’t “back down” and accused the right on of “desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right.”
“We didn’t back down, there was no change of plan … I fully assume France’s destiny is in Europe,” Beaune said, adding that the EU flag installation had not replaced the French flag as it was not a permanent display.
Macron defeated Le Pen in a 2017 runoff, with voters backing him 66% to 34%. He has yet to declare his candidacy but is expected to run again for reelection in April.
The populist Le Pen has already launched her campaign.
mvb/rs (AFP, Reuters)