French authorities have removed the EU flag from the Arc de Triomphe after rightwing opponents of the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, accused him of erasing French identity.
The giant flag was raised in place of the French tricolour on New Year’s Eve to mark France’s turn at the rotating EU presidency, which it will hold for the next six months.
The arch, a monument to war dead, and other landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Panthéon, will also be illuminated with blue lights for the rest of the week.
Macron’s rightwing rivals for presidential elections in the spring seized on the removal of the tricolour, calling it an affront to France’s heritage and its veterans.
“Preside over Europe yes, erase French identity no,” tweeted Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate whom polls indicate could be Marcon’s main challenger.
She urged him to restore the French flag. “We owe it to our soldiers who spilled their blood for it,” she said.
The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had vowed to file a complaint with the state council, France’s highest court for administrative matters, called the removal of the EU flag “a great patriotic victory”. She tweeted that a “massive mobilisation” had forced Macron to backpedal.
An official in the French presidency, however, said on Sunday that the flag’s removal before dawn was in line with the planned schedule and that it was only ever intended to hang in the arch for two days.
The Europe minister, Clément Beaune, had accused critics on Saturday of “desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right”.
The presidency official, who asked not to be named, could not say when the French flag would fly again under the Arc de Triomphe, but noted that it was not a permanent feature for the monument.