Following the horrors of the Second World War, there was a concerted effort to re-Christianise Europe, to ensure that the horrors inflicted by nationalist and Marxist socialism would never be repeated. For a time, statesmen like Konrad Adenauer in Germany and Alcide de Gasperi in Italy actually had remarkable success in promoting a Christian Democracy in which the sovereignty of Almighty God and the sanctity of human life, which carries the Image of God, were considered sacrosanct.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1955, the new flag of the European Union was inaugurated, emblazoned with twelve stars on a blue background. Its designer, Arsène Heitz, later disclosed that the stars represent the halo seen in images of Our Lady. After his first design incorporating the Cross had been rejected as too overtly Christian, Heitz was happy to take his inspiration from a picture of the Immaculate Conception.
At that time, there seemed to be so much promise for a Christian future in Europe — a future in which all human life at every stage of its existence, from conception to death, would be considered sacred and inviolable, thanks to that indelible Image of God emblazoned on every human soul.— Fr Julian Large, Cong. Orat.
So preached the Provost of the London Oratory during a stirring sermon to, as usual, a packed church one Sunday in 2013.
Of course, as Fr Julian correctly continued, “then something seemed to go badly wrong”, but it would take a volume to transcribe the numerous missteps and mistakes in the process of attempting European political unity.
Still, one would need to be blind not to acknowledge some of its accomplishments, among which I would count the European flag the genesis of which Fr Julian describes. The design is both simple and dignified which is amply attested to by the ease with which it has been deployed to myriad purposes.
While later adopted and used by the European Union (and its predecessors, the EEC and EC) it was actually created earlier in 1955 by an entirely separate organisation, the Council of Europe. They Strasbourg-based body still holds the copyright to the European flag and includes among its members many parts of Europe and beyond that are not part of the EU, viz. Russia, Denmark’s Greenland, Turkey, and parts of the Caucasus.
As Great Britain’s membership of the European Union draws to a close, it is some reassurance that we can still claim the European flag as our own, not just vaguely as a European country, but even legally as a Council of Europe member state. Just as one mustn’t surrender the Cross of St George to be waved only by football hooligans and racists, nor must we allow the Crown of Stars to be monopolised by ‘remoaners’ with blind faith in ever-centralising and ever-more-remote institutions.
One hopes that, in time, whatever negative connotations the European flag may have had amongst some will fade into the past as Britain takes her natural place as the bridge connecting Europe and the rest of the world.