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13 Feb, 2019 13:20

France’s flag mandate for schools fuels fury

France’s flag mandate for schools fuels fury

The French parliament has adopted a proposal to decorate every classroom in France with the national and European Union flags, but the measure has drawn flak from both the left and the right. It is now being reconsidered.

The National Assembly approved the proposal by Republican deputy Éric Ciotti to hang the French tricolor in schools, after amending it to include the EU flag as well.  

“The French flag is a landmark that must be present in every class of every school in France, it is a dam against the plagues that threaten us, including Islamism and anti-Semitism," Ciotti said, speaking in favor of his proposal on Tuesday. The adopted measure says that the French flag and the chorus of the national anthem will need to be displayed in all primary and secondary classrooms across the country, both public and private.

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Although Ciotti had initially proposed only the display of the French tricolor, he welcomed the inclusion of the EU standard, calling it “an important step forward.”

His measure came in response to Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s call for reforming schools, which stressed the importance of the French educational system in fostering “national cohesion.”

The measure naturally found critics among France’s rising Eurosceptic movement, including President Emmanuel Macron’s biggest rival, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen.

Others on social media suggested that the effort amounted to “dictatorship” by imposing the EU flag, and self-defeating or even hypocritical, given the poor conditions at some schools where the flags will be displayed.

(The European flag was among the symbols established by the European Constitution, which was massively rejected by the French in the 2005 referendum.)

"Yes to the French flag, no to the European flag. The latter must be left to the free choice of each mayor. Everyone is not necessarily pro-European. Otherwise it is called dictatorship," wrote one user in response to Ciotti.

"There is not enough money in France to properly heat schools or get rid of rats, but the ministry can afford two flags per classroom?" asked another.

Someone asked if students would be able to use the flags as blankets in the winter, when there is no heating.

Ciotti’s movement was also not without its critics on the National Assembly floor, particularly among left-wing MPs who continue to fight the mandate.

Michel Larive of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) expressed his worry that the vote signaled a “nationalist drift” from those who are more interested in “identity” than “equality.”

"Schools are not barracks," he declared.

Elsa Faucillon of the Communist Party also took to Twitter to say that opposition voices were denied the chance to make their case during the deliberations.

On top of critiquing the voting process, Faucillon requested a new round of deliberations. Chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Education, Bruno Studer, seconded her request, which the assembly granted.

There will be another vote before the measure is approved. The new debate will take place next Friday, following a review of the mandate’s text.

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