In the early 1950s, the European Union as we know it did not exist, but a process of economic and political cooperation involving most Western European countries was already underway. And those countries came close to choosing a flag that featured the cross to represent their union.
The idea for the flag came from Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, who in 1923 had founded the Paneuropean Union, the first political organization dedicated to European unity. Son of a Bohemian diplomat and a Japanese patrician, Coudenhove-Kalergi was born an Austro-Hungarian subject in 1894, adopted Czechoslovak citizenship in 1919 after the breakup of the Habsburg Monarchy, and became a French citizen in 1939 after the takeover of Prague by Nazi Germany. He was concerned about the cultural dimension of post–World War II Europe. Would not a common religious, ethical, and aesthetic heritage be the best foundation for a secure future? Most of the founding fathers of the postwar European project agreed with him. They unanimously endorsed his choice of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as the continent’s anthem.