In Brief

Should the EU have an official anthem?

Brexit Party MEPs accused of being disrespectful after parliamentary stunt over ‘federal anthem’

Brexit Party MEPs have been accused of being disrespectful after they turned their back in protest during a performance of the EU’s official anthem Ode to Joy during opening the European Parliament’s new session.

The party, which only launched in February, secured a stunning victory in May’s European Parliament elections, winning the most seats out of any single group across all 28 EU member states.

The stunt, by what MailOnline called a group of “euro-disruptors”, suggests they could purse a strategy of disobedience against what they see as the trappings of statehood from the European Union.

The Daily Telegraph says “protocol is that MEPs stand for the anthem,” which has been seized on by Eurosceptics as proof of the bloc's federal ambitions.

Speaking after the opening of parliament, the party’s leader Nigel Farage promised his group of 29 MEPs “are going to be cheerfully defiant” and that they had “already made their presence felt”.

Denying that the Brexit Party’s “very silent act of defiance” was disrespectful, Farage added: “What is disrespectful is to take the ancient nation states of Europe and without asking anyone's permission turn it into a country, because that's what the president of the parliament called it this morning”.

Brexit Party MEP David Bull reiterated this argument on BBC Radio 5 Live when he said his colleagues turned their backs because it was a “federal anthem”.

“We were not turning our backs on our European friends and colleagues, we do not believe in a federal European state and an anthem is as symbol of that,” he said, adding “if it had been a national anthem we would have respected it. No-one in Europe has voted to have an anthem.”

The London Evening Standard notes UKIP MEPs performed the same political stand as they turned their backs at the start of the session in 2014. Paul Nuttall, the party’s deputy leader at the time, said it was intended to send the message they did not “recognise or respect the EU flag or anthem”.

As well as the Brexit Party’s action, Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden remained seated for the anthem.

“For years the EU has said that it doesn’t have the ambition to be a state and it is states that have anthems,” he told Sky News, arguing that “playing this so-called anthem is a deliberate political act and something I don’t recognise”.

However, the stunt drew stinging criticism from politicians from both the EU and UK, with the leader of Labour’s MEPs, Richard Corbett, highlighting how, like the EU, both the Olympic Games and United Nations also have anthems.

The European parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, rebuked those MEPs who did not immediately get to their feet saying: “[It] is a question of respect; it doesn’t mean that you necessarily share the views of the European Union. If you listen to the anthem of another country you rise to your feet.”

Ska Keller, co leader of the Greens/EFA group, branded Farage and his MEPs a “total disgrace” while Labour's Lilian Greenwood called it “childish, disrespectful and damaging to our country's interests”, and her colleague Luciana Berger described it as it “beyond pathetic”.

Catherine Rowett, a Green Party MEP, tweeted: “How silly and irritable can you look, turning your back on the Ode to Joy at the opening of Parliament. Did people really elect them for that? Only Brexit Party have the gall to object to the sentiments of that anthem.”

Others noted that while they refused to take part in Brussels protocol like the official anthem, Brexit Party MEPs will draw their salary from the EU.

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