Why does the European flag have 12 stars?

The European flag consists of a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue field. Why twelve? The television programme “Karambolage” on the French-German channel ARTE answers this question in a short video.

In 1949, the Council of Europe was created to promote democracy and human rights. Of course, they needed an emblem and no flag that already existed suited them. In 1950, the Council therefore launched a call for proposals for the flag’s design. The criteria were a strong symbolism, recognisability and a pleasing appearance. However, despite receiving over a hundred proposals, not one satisfied them completely.

In 1953, the Council finally opted for 15 stars on a blue field, since it counted 15 members at the time. The design was subsequently changed to 14 stars, as one of the Council members was the Saar Protectorate, an autonomous region that was disputed between Germany and France, but administered by the latter. Adopting the 15-star design would have meant that Germany accepted the region’s sovereignty. So why not 14 stars? Because this would have implied that France and the Saar Protectorate did not accept the region’s sovereignty … 13 stars then? No, 13 is considered an unlucky number. Consequently, they opted for twelve stars, as there are 12 months, 12 hours, 12 astrological signs, 12 apostles, 12 labours of Hercules, etc.

The flag was finally adopted in 1955, but it wasn’t until 1986 that the European institutions began to use it as well. It thus became the symbol of the European Union.

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