Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 15:52 UK

EU symbols revive federalism row

EU flag
Use of the EU flag is a sensitive issue across Europe

A decision to make the EU flag and motto more prominent and play the EU anthem in the European Parliament has angered some British Euro MPs.

The parliament voted by 503 to 96 in favour of the measure on Thursday, with 15 abstentions.

Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden reminded fellow MEPs that EU symbols were dropped from the Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the EU constitution.

A Labour MEP, Richard Corbett, said the protests were "a storm in a teacup".

He said former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was among the leaders who had backed a decision on adopting EU symbols back in 1985.

The anthem, based on Beethoven's Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony, will be performed at the opening of parliament after European elections and at formal sessions of the assembly.

The flag will be displayed in all the parliament's meeting rooms and at parliament's official events.

The motto "United in diversity" will appear on all the parliament's official documents.

'Baubles of Eurofederalism'

"Whether it's the Champions League, the Olympics or a university, almost every organisation in the world now has its own symbols, and the European Parliament recognising Ode To Joy as its anthem and the 12 gold stars as its symbol is no different," Mr Corbett said.

But Jim Allister, an independent MEP from Northern Ireland, said he was not going to trade his anthem and flag for the "tawdry baubles of Eurofederalism".

"Ode to Joy, which we are going to purloin, may be a very nice tune, but so is Jingle Bells and like Jingle Bells it heralds a fantasy, the fantasy that the EU is good for you. But unlike Jingle Bells, it will damage your national sovereignty," he said.

Mr Van Orden argued that his constituents "do not want a constitution, they do not want the Treaty of Lisbon and they certainly do not want a state called Europe, and I think it is an affront to them to try and introduce or give official character to these symbols".

The EU symbols were enshrined in the ill-fated EU constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. EU leaders decided to leave out any reference to EU symbols when they negotiated the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

The parliamentary rule change backed by MEPs on Thursday also included recognition of 9 May as Europe Day - a day to celebrate the EU.

A Scottish nationalist (SNP) deputy, Alyn Smith MEP, derided the vote as "a pointless navel-gazing exercise".

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