Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

French Flag-Fiddling

As if you needed more reasons to despise Nicolas Sarkozy! Well, this one we can’t even blame on him. Shall I explain? The national flag of France is a tricolour of three equal vertical stripes of blue, white, and red. Excepting the heady days of the Bourbon restoration, this has consistently been the French flag for the past two centuries now. A little while into the Sarkozy presidency, however, I began noticing a change only in the French flag as displayed whenever the President gave a press conference. The white stripe was reduced in width by half and the space on either side given to the neighbouring colours. The obvious deduction made was that the President wanted all three colours of the national flag shown whenever there were close-up press photographs of himself, and research confirms that this is the case. This shows an awareness for visual representation, but is nonetheless a highly unusual assault on the official flag of a nation.

However, the narrow-striped flag is not an innovation introduced by Sarkozy, although most widely used by him. It first appeared during the Mitterand presidency in 1994, during an interview on the television programme Mots croisés. Jacques Chirac continued the occasional use of this modified flag, which in March 1999 drew comment in a letter to the editor of the Belfort newspaper Le Pays:

I have been having my doubts for years under the presidency of François Mitterrand; his successor, Jacques Chirac, confirmed my doubts. Indeed, our national emblem, born during the Revolution, was modified on the sly and nobody reacted. Our flag shall be made of three vertical blue, white and red stripes of equal size, which is no longer the case, at least for the flag of the Élysée Palace. The white stripe was reduced by half under the presidency of François Mitterrand, and his successor seems to put up with this flag. How can a man, even if he is the President of the Republic, assume the right of changing our flag? I know well that white symbolizes royalty and that by “republicanism” François Mitterrand wanted to make a lasting impression, but there are probably texts, regulations, and maybe a law defining precisely our emblem. I know well that today the “Prince” sometimes decides on his own, against the course of history. It is great time to come back to a more republican conception of our emblem and one of our deputies or our senators should ask a question to the government on this matter.

It was years before anyone took up the letter-writer’s suggestion. On May 23, 2002, Senator Jean-Louis Masson submitted a written question to the defence minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie: “Should the tricolour flag have its three stripes of equal dimensions?” The minister’s eventual response was that the Constitution “states that the tricolore blue, white, red flag is the national emblem of France, but does not give any precision about the width of each stripe; therefore, the former dispositions should be considered as unchanged.”

Can you imagine if politicians throughout the world started arbitrarily and without authority changing their national flags for the purposes of press conferences? Thankfully, this practice has not been noticed anywhere but the Elysée and, as in the photo up top, in places the President travels and his hosts apparently give in to his request for the mis-proportioned flag. Wiser hosts should not give in to such megalomaniacal manipulation of national emblems.

This post was published on Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 10:55 am. It has been categorised under Flags France and been tagged under , .
Michelle F. Carroll
10 Nov 2010 11:03 am

Very interesting. I must say, it is a rather clever tactic. I’m not sure I would have ever thought to insure the color pallet was visible at all times. I give them credit for ingenuity.

Andrew Cusack
10 Nov 2010 11:19 am

But whenever you’re anything except for RIGHTUPCLOSE the change in proportion is obvious, and it looks stupid.

Xander Fraser
10 Nov 2010 11:36 am

Of course, one could make the point that Nicholas Sárközy de Nagy-Bócsa’s ‘French-ness’ is of recent vintage.

As for that blank-faced bed-hopper of a wife of his….

Steve M
10 Nov 2010 3:25 pm

I would like to see the white take up all except two nice, one inch wide blue and red stripes. Then slowly start shrinking those little stripes. Hope and change!

Andrew Cusack
10 Nov 2010 5:05 pm

Perhaps the addition of a few fleurs-de-lys as well, Steve?

K. Dontoh
10 Nov 2010 5:12 pm

Perhaps it is the national ensign, with its odd proportions?

Steve: I like the way you think. Or perhaps we could instead start growing a horizontal white bar and end up with a nice cross?

10 Nov 2010 7:49 pm

During and following WWII the Frchch Communists would “show their colors” by displaying only the red field of the flag. Obviously the Mitterand alteration pleases their neos.

Steve M
11 Nov 2010 8:51 pm

Andrew, a few fleurs-de-lys would be a super fine idea.
K. Dontoh, I like the cut of your jib.

K. Dontoh
11 Nov 2010 9:12 pm

Perhaps we should consider baptizing it?

13 Nov 2010 5:33 pm

That’s nothing new, the Tricolour with a thin middle stripe is often used in France where the flag is only partially seen (i.e. on a televised Press Conference) –,0.jpg

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