New Gov’t Removes EU Flag
December 13, 2015
The new conservative government of Prime Minister Beata Szyd這 has removed the European Union flag from the prime minister’s weekly press conference in a symbolic move that reflects the new regime’s Euroskeptic stance and its focus on national values.
Opposition leaders were irritated and the global media surprised to see EU flags missing from the room where Polish prime ministers hold official press conferences. EU flags have also been removed from many government buildings.
During a press briefing held Nov. 24 at the Prime Minister’s Office in Warsaw, Beata Szyd這, spoke with only the Polish flag behind her. The EU flag had been displayed in the room alongside the Polish one ever since Poland joined the EU in 2004. Former foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who is running in elections to choose a new leader for the now opposition Civic Platform (PO) party, said after Szyd這’s press conference that removing the EU flag was a “path to a PR disaster as well as a political one.” Schetyna, who chairs the lower house’s committee on foreign affairs, added that Poles and the parliament strongly objected to such “anti-European policies.”
Ewa Kopacz, the prime minister in the former PO government, said that the absence of the EU flag was a sign of disrespect and a desire to demonstrate that the country’s EU membership “is not that important to Poland.”
“Being in the EU today is as important as looking after [the country’s] security,” said Kopacz. “The EU and Poland’s membership of it are what makes us feel secure. We definitely cannot guarantee security for the Polish people on our own, but we surely stand a better chance of doing so as part of the European community.” According to Kopacz, removing the EU flag sends an undesirable signal to the EU. She added, “I can see no reason why Poland should try to shy away from being identified with the EU.”
In response to the criticism, El瘺ieta Witek, the spokeswoman for the new government, said she could not see why journalists were so focused on the EU flags. “The EU flag is there in the room where Cabinet sessions are held and it is there in front of the room,” said Witek. “But this was a press conference that followed a session of the Polish government.”
Neither Polish opposition leaders nor European politicians and journalists found that explanation convincing. The bluntest comment came from former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who wrote on Twitter: “So you don’t want the flag, but you still want the EU money?”
The international media said the new Polish government’s seemingly insignificant gesture was intended as a message that under its new right-wing government, Poland would distance itself from the EU rather than pursue stronger European integration.