From The Otago Daily Times ( NZ ) on Monday Jan. 9th 1995
« No need to Change the Flag » ( by Roberyt J. Wielaard )
It adorns car licence plates in some of the 12 European Union
nations and greets travellers at border points from Athens to Amsterdam to
But 40 years after it was created, the European flag and its twelve gold
stars on a field of blue remain a source of confusion.
Contrary to popular belief, its stars do not represent the current 12
members of the European Union. So, with Austria, Finland and Sweden joining
the EU this month, not a single star will be added to the European flag.
The European flag was designed after a five-year squabble, starting in 1950.
Bureaucrats studied more than 100 designs - rings, crosses, stars, suns, triangles -
sent in by artists, heraldry experts and Euro-enthusiasts. In 1953, a circle
of stars was put on a short list by the Council of Europe ( the first post-war
organisation for European integration ). Two more years were needed to pick
a blue background.
The Council had 15 members in 1955, but Germany ( FRG ) vetoed 15 stars since one
was for the Saarland region, then under French control. It wanted 14 stars,
but France disagreed because it excluded Saarland, which did not rejoin
Germany until 1957.
No-one liked the superstitious number 13, but 12 was found to hold great
Judeo-Christian symbolism ( through the 12 tribes and 12 apostles ). Also, in
Greek mythology, Hercules gained immortality through 12 labours.
By 1957 the Council of Europe had 25 members. The more powerful
organization ( EU or European Union, as it is now known ), founded that year by
six nations, now has 15 members. A dozen more is waiting in the wings.
The difficulty in picking a European flag was not an isolated bout of
ambivalence over Euro-symbols. The Council of Europe spent eight years
selecting a European anthem. In 1972 it picked Ode to Joy from
Beethoven's Symphony no. 9, which has since been adopted by the EU.
In the 1980s, the EU spent seven years arguing over the colour of the
European passport, eventually picking "Bishop Red". Ironically, this does
not show the European flag or its 12-star logo, but the national emblems of
each issuing nation.
The European nations have also had trouble choosing a common holiday, so
now there are two: May 5 and May 9. The Council of Europe uses the former
because on that date in 1949 Britain's Sir Winston Churchill declared in a
speech in Zurich : « We must build a United States of Europe ».
The EU calls May 9 Robert Schuman Day in honour of the French statesman who was a key
founder of the union.