Macron secretly changed the French flag’s bright blue to navy

A tinge of history.
A tinge of history.
Image: Reuters/Ludovic Marin/Pool
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Nearly sixteen months ago, French president Emmanuel Macron started changing the brighter blue of the iconic red, white and blue French flag to a darker shade—and no one noticed.

Flags with navy blue stripes are already displayed across various buildings including the president’s residence Élysée Palace, the National Assembly, and even public square Place Beauvau, according to French radio network Europe 1’s chief, Louis de Raguenel.

The president ordered the change in July 2020, at the suggestion of Arnaud Jolens, the director of operations of the Élysée, Bruno Roger-Petit, the president’s advisor on memorials and historical events, and a host of naval officers, Europe1 reported. The radio station cited a book, Elysée Confidentiel, by Eliot Blondet and Paul Larrouturou, released in September.

It’s rare for any country to change its flag, let alone one as distinctive as France’s tricolore.

Why did Macron change the French flag’s blue hue?

While there’s debate around whether Macron’s tweak is “elegant” or ugly, aesthetics are likely not the main driver of his decision. Rather, the decision appears to be politically motivated: Macron’s return to a darker hue is a hat-tip to the French Revolution. It’s the same color that appeared on the 1794 flag, hoisted in the years following the removal of the monarchy—Marie-Antoinette, the guillotine, cake, etc—and the establishment of the First Republic.

Before Macron’s presidency, a brighter cobalt was used in the tricolor for decades. Former president Giscard d’Estaing introduced it in 1976 to match the EU flag’s Marion blue since the two flags often appeared together.

“Giscard changed this blue for aesthetic reasons during integration with Europe, but the flag that all the presidents took along with them ever since was not the real French flag,” Jolens is quoted as saying in the book.

Flags of France and European Union flutter above the French Consulate in central Istanbul, Turkey, July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Matching blues on the French and EU flags in 2016.
Image: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Is altering the French tricolore a problem?

A move away from the EU blue should not be read into too deeply, French officials urge. The shade change is not anti-EU gesture, they stressed. France is due to take on the rotating EU presidency in January.

Separately, at home, the change isn’t too drastic because the darker color was always around somewhere. France’s navy and many official buildings have always used the navy blue shade. The flag on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is also the same color. Macron has been using these flags in the background of his speeches since December 2018.

Still, the presidential palace has neither publicly announced the change nor instructed other institutions to follow suit, likely to avoid any kerfuffle around it. Macron, who is up for re-election in April, may not want to be known as a president who “touches the deepest symbols of the country.”