France removes EU flag from Arc de Triomphe after rightwing anger

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

The EU flag was installed to mark the start of France's presidency of the EU Council.
The EU flag was installed to mark the start of France's presidency of the EU Council. JULIEN DE ROSA AFP

The giant blue flag was raised in place of the French tricolour 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, will remain illuminated with blue lights for the rest of this week.

But Macron's right-wing rivals for presidential elections in spring seized on the removal of the tricolor flag, calling it an affront to France's heritage and its veterans.

"Preside over Europe yes, erase French identity no!" tweeted Valerie Pécresse, the conservative candidate who will be one of the main challengers 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."

'A great patriotic victory'

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had vowed to file a complaint with the State Council, France's highest court for administrative matters, called the 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 Sunday that 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 accused the right on Saturday of "desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right."

The presidency official could not say when the massive French flag will again be deployed under the Arc, but noted that it was not a permanent feature of the monument.

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