‘Completely regrettable’: Brussels demands answers over ban on EU flags at Eurovision

The European Commission has expressed anger over a ban on EU flags at the Eurovision Song Contest and demands explanations.

The allegations, made by several spectators who attended the Grand Final on Saturday and were told off for carrying the flags, quickly turned viral and prompted a stern rebuke from Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas.

“Eurovision is first and foremost a celebration of European spirit, of our European diversity and talent. The EU flag is a symbol of this,” Schinas said on X on Saturday evening.

“Less than a month to the European elections, there should be no obstacles, big or small, to celebrating what unites all Europeans.”

The EU’s executive is now seeking answers from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Geneva-based alliance of public media and the organiser of the music celebration. Schinas sent a letter on Monday asking EBU bosses to explain the “rationale” behind the ban and attribute “responsibility where it is due”.

“It is certainly completely regrettable,” said Eric Mamer, the Commission’s chief spokesperson on Monday. “From our point of view, there is absolutely no reason for this flag (…) to be banned from the venue.”

“This is not an event which is organised by the European Union. We can make our views known. We can certainly encourage the EBU to understand that this is a mistake and then it’s their decision on how to proceed,” he added.

In a statement to Euronews, the EBU said the flag policy had been agreed with SVT, the Swedish broadcaster and host of this year’s contest, but stressed this did not feature an explicit provision to prohibit EU flags.

“As in previous years such as 2023, SVT’s policy was to allow the flags of the participating countries and the rainbow flags. There has never been an express ban on the EU flag in the written policy,” an EBU spokesperson said

“Due to heightened geopolitical tensions, the flag policy was more rigorously enforced by security at this year’s event.”

Mamer struck back, saying it was not EBU’s role to make statements about the geopolitical situation and the impact that it “may or may not have” on participants.

“I would say more: it’s exactly when the geopolitical situation is complicated that we must champion our values – the values of freedom, cultural diversity and understanding among peoples,” Mamer added. “I don’t think this is the right time to refrain people from expressing their values by flying the European flag, for example.”

Euronews has reached out to SVT for comment.

The flag debacle came on the heels of a string of controversies that marred this year’s edition, including the last-minute expulsion of Joost Klein, the Dutch entry, and the divisive participation of Israel at a time of war in Gaza.

Journalists who were in Malmö, Sweden, described an atmosphere of tension and chaos on social media. Martin Österdahl, the contest’s executive supervisor, was loudly booed during the Grand Final when he intervened to announce the closing of voting.

However, by the time Nemo, the Swiss representative, snatched the trophy, the ambiance had become ecstatic, as the arena chanted the chorus of the winning song, “The Code.”

A political flag?

The flag of Europe, with its distinct reflex blue and 12 yellow stars, was designed in 1955 by the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation with 46 members, and gained further recognition in the 1980s after the EU made it its official symbol. The flag is often displayed in public buildings across the 27 member states next to the national flag, with the same degree of visibility.

But this year in Eurovision, its presence was contested.

Dorin Frăsîneanu, a policy advisor at the ALDE party who traveled with friends to Malmö, told Euronews about his experience.

“We have approached the arena and while queuing to pass security, they asked me and my friends to show what flags we had. We, of course, showed the EU flags that we had and the security told us it is not allowed to enter with them, that it is a political flag,” Frăsîneanu said.

“We were honestly shocked and appalled. The security guy, however, was very polite and said that unfortunately, he couldn’t do much, the EBU had given them a picture with all the flags allowed there. Indeed, the EU flag was not there.”

The group of friends was then asked to surrender the EU flags to be permitted entrance to the venue, Frăsîneanu explained.

According to the Eurovision rules, spectators can display and wave flags from any participating country as well as the Pride flag, considered a symbol of tolerance and diversity. This means, for instance, the prohibition to carry Palestinian flags.

The organisers, though, previously allowed the exhibit of EU flags, as was the case last year in Liverpool. The banners were clearly visible while Loreen was making her way to the stage after being declared the winner.

On its official website, the EBU says Eurovision is a “non-political event” and that all delegations and broadcasters need to ensure that the contest “shall in no case be politicised and/or instrumentalised and/or otherwise brought into disrepute in any way.”

The EU flag was not the only symbol under scrutiny. Reports also emerged that fans carrying non-binary flags were told on Saturday to leave them outside. Nemo, who identifies as non-binary, called the allegations “unbelievable”.

“I had to smuggle the flag in because Eurovision said no and I did it anyway,” they said in the press conference after the win. “This is clearly a double standard.”

“Maybe Eurovision needs a bit of fixing every now and then,” they added.

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Categories: Alternative, Shame on You
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

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