France removes EU flag from Arc de Triomphe after right-wing uproar

French authorities took down a temporary installation of the European Union flag from the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris on Sunday, after right-wing opponents of President Emmanuel Macron accused him of "erasing" French identity.

People gather at Paris' Arc de Triomphe lit up in blue to mark the French presidency of the European Union
People gather at Paris' Arc de Triomphe lit up in blue to mark the French presidency of the European Union on January 1st, 2022. The European Union flag was taken down on Sunday. JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

The giant blue 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 for the remainder of this week.

But Macron’s right-wing rivals for the presidential election four months away seized on the removal of the French tricolour, calling it an affront to France’s heritage and its veterans.

“Preside over Europe, yes, erase French identity, no!” tweeted Valerie Pecresse, the conservative candidate who polls indicate could be the main challenger to Macron in the upcoming vote.

She urged him to restore the French flag, saying, “We owe it to our soldiers who spilled their blood for it.”

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had vowed to file a complaint with the State Council, France’s highest court for administrative matters, also denounced the move, while Eric Zemmour, a far-right media pundit who is also running against Macron, called it “an insult”.

Le Pen on Sunday called the overnight removal of the EU flag “a great patriotic victory,” claiming on Twitter that a “massive mobilisation” had forced 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.

Europe Minister Clement Beaune, who on Saturday accused Macron’s opponents of “desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right,” also denied any “retreat”.

“We embrace Europe, but that doesn’t take anything away from our French identity,” Beaune told France Inter radio.

He said the decision to remove the flag during the night was made by officials at the agency in charge of national monuments.

The presidency official, who asked not to be named, could not say when the massive French flag would fly again under the Arc, but noted it was not a permanent feature for the monument.


Member comments

      1. Britain came to support the French army and returned to Britain when the French decided to surrender after just 6 weeks. Britain then won the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic , allowing the US to then join them in freeing occupied Europe.

        1. A rather misguided and one-sided view of history but only to be expected from such an expert on France. No doubt another Daily Mail reader.

          1. Simple facts tell their own story – like 123000 of the 360000 troops evacuated from Dunkirk were French. 150000 British, American and Commonwealth troops landed on D-Day alongside 175 French troops. No doubt you have your own narrative, Boggy, but the numbers don’t lie.

  1. If that’s all the right wing can worry about, they are not very bright or as well-informed about the country as they say they are.

  2. Honestly, if their ego and ‘identity’ is that fragile it deserves to be lost (referring to the.right wingers idea of Frenchness…not the nation)…

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How long do non-EU citizens have to be present in EU to avoid losing residency status?

How long do non-EU citizens have to be present in the European Union to make sure they don’t lose the status of long-term resident? For the first time the Court of Justice of the European Union has given an answer. 

A banner publicising the 'Next Generation EU' campaign and with an EU flag
A banner publicising the 'Next Generation EU' campaign and with an EU flag fluttering near by at the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels on October 13, 2021. (Photo by Aris Oikonomou / AFP)

Being physically present in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to avoid losing permanent residency, EU judges said.

And once long-term residence is acquired, “it is not necessary for the person concerned to have his or her habitual residence or centre of interests in the European Union,” the Court has specified. 

What’s the background?

Under the EU directive entered into force in 2006, non-EU citizens can apply for long-term resident status once they have lived legally in a country of the European Union for an uninterrupted period of five years. 

To get the status, they need to have a stable source of income and meet their own needs and those of their family members without relying on social assistance. They also need to have health insurance and, if required at the national level, prove they are integrated in society, for instance by knowing the language or the fundamental principles of the country. 

Once acquired, long-term residence grants rights similar to EU citizens in terms or work, education, social security and other welfare benefits. In addition, it should make it easier to move for work or study to other EU countries, although there are still many gaps in the way the directive is applied at the national level.

The status can also be lost if the person concerned is absent from the EU for 12 consecutive months (EU countries can allow longer periods or consider exceptional circumstances). 

But what counts as presence to break the 12-month period and maintain the status? The initial directive did not specify it and only on Thursday the EU Court of Justice provided a clarification. 

Why was the clarification needed?

The case was related to a Kazakh citizen living in Austria. The head of government of the Vienna Province (Landeshauptmann von Wien) had refused his application to renew the long-term residence permit because, in the previous 5 years, he had been present in the EU territory for only a few days a year. 

He then challenged the decision with the local administrative court (Verwaltungsgericht), requesting an interpretation of the rules to the Court of Justice of the EU. 

The administrative court asked the EU Court to clarify whether any physical presence, even of a few days, would be sufficient to prevent the loss of status, or whether an EU member state could set additional conditions, such as having habitual residence or a centre of interests in the country.

And what was the ruling?

The EU Court of Justice ruled this week that “to prevent the loss of long-term resident status” it is sufficient to be present in the EU for a few days in the 12 months following the start of the absence. 

This interpretation of the directive will now have to be followed by national administrations and courts EU-wide (except in Denmark and Ireland, which have opted out from this directive. It is possible for EU countries to opt out from EU directives on justice and home affairs but not on the internal market.)

The EU judges noted that the directive “seeks to ensure the integration of third-country nationals” and since they have already “demonstrated that they are settled in that member state”, they are, in principle, “free, as are EU citizens, to travel and reside, also for longer periods, outside the territory of the European Union” without losing their status. The rule applies as long as they maintain a link with the EU, which means they are not absent for more than 12 consecutive months, the Court added. 

Steve Peers, professor of EU law, human rights law and world trade law at the University of Essex, in England, said “this is the first judgment on this aspect of the loss of status due to absence.”

Loss of EU status doesn’t mean loss of national residency

Professor Peers also explained that when a person loses EU long-term residency status, it is still possible to maintain national status, “either where they hold that status in parallel and there are not sufficient grounds to remove it, or where they are allowed to stay under national law even though they have lost the EU status.”

Of the 23 million non-EU citizens living in the European Union, more than 10 million had long-term residence in 2019, according to the EU statistical office Eurostat.

“These residents are close to acquiring citizenship in the countries where they reside” and “they have got rights to education and vocational training, social security, tax benefits and access to procedures for obtaining housing,” said Maria Luisa Castro Costaluz of Costaluz Lawyers, a law firm in Algeciras specialized in the rights of English-speaking foreigners in Spain. 

“It seems sensible that the long-term status provides to them a better profile in regards to mobility too,” she commented.

And what about for Britons covered by Withdrawal Agreement?

According to legal experts, the Court’s decision would also extend to people covered by the agreement on the UK withdrawal from the European Union. 

While the period of absences accepted for long-term residents is up to 12 months, however, under the Brexit agreement it is up to 5 years for those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

“If the judgment applies by analogy, then it should follow that it should be adapted to the period of absence. So a few days in every five years,” Professor Peers said. But then he added: “Of course no one should act on this assumption until the EU court has confirmed it.” 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.