The Another

    French Parliament divided over requiring EU flag on town halls



    The town hall of Vaux-en-Beaujolais, in eastern France, on December 26, 2019.

    A primarily symbolic bill sparked debate at the Assemblée Nationale for several hours on Tuesday, May 9. Lawmakers began examining a proposal from President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party that would make it compulsory to display the French and European flags in front of town halls. Ultimately, lawmakers ran out of time and could not hold a vote. The discussions were to resume on Wednesday afternoon, with the study of the 30 or so remaining amendments.

    Opposition parties criticized in unison a proposal that they deemed “useless,” “costly for the town halls” and “out of step with the expectations of the French.” But on Tuesday evening, the MPs also failed to adopt a preliminary motion of rejection presented by La France Insoumise (LFI, far left) and amendments to abolish the bill from the Rassemblement National (RN, far right), LFI and Les Républicains (LR , right). The latter vote was especially narrow, with 160 in favor and 169 against, as seven Green MPs joined the ruling coalition. The close result made the outcome of Wednesday’s vote on the bill uncertain.

    “A symbolic text is not necessarily inconsequential,” said rapporteur and Renaissance MP Mathieu Lefèvre. “It is there to remind us of our attachment to European unity in the context of Brexit and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.” Renaissance wanted to put the bill on the agenda on the anniversary of the May 9, 1950 speech by Robert Schuman, who is considered the founder of European construction.

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    Dissent in the majority

    “You demand our Assembly,” said LFI MP Antoine Léaument, “You are unable to move on from the pension reform, so you are creating a diversion with proposals devoid of substance or interest.” LR MP Annie Genevard added: “What a sense of timing you have to push this debate when there are so many more urgent topics.” Centrist opposition MP Paul Molac asked, “Is our parliamentary agenda so empty that it is necessary to fill it with symbolic bills?” He went on to list the issues “about which our citizens are constantly alerting us: medical deserts, adaptation to climate change, housing problems.”

    The RN opposed the bill by defending amendments to “reaffirm the primacy” of the French flag and remove any mention of its European counterpart. “There are only three colors to which the French bow: blue, white and red,” said RN lawmaker Jean-Philippe Tanguy.

    The bill was controversial within the governing coalition, with the centrist MoDem party repeatedly asking the leaders of the Renaissance group not to put it on the agenda. During the examination of the legislation by the law commission, the MoDem’s Elodie Jacquier-Laforge even criticized it as a measure that “does not respond to the concerns of our compatriots, or even of the municipalities. It is not an answer to the challenges of our time.”

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