University flag fine claim 'lunacy'
The European Commission (EC) has described claims that Northampton University was fined by Brussels for not flying the European Union (EU) flag as "total lunacy".
MPs and MEPs have called for the amount of about £56,000 to be paid back to the university, which was penalised for not advertising the fact that it was getting EU funding.
An EC spokesman said it was normal for co-funded projects to be recognised via a logo or some other reference at the site where the money is spent. Rules mean part of the funding can be withdrawn if recognition is not given.
EC regional affairs spokesman Tom van Lierop said: "That's perfectly standard procedure, and private investors in projects, or organisations such as the UK national lottery, also like some recognition of investments they've made."
He revealed that it was the UK authorities which decided that Northampton University was not fulfilling its commitment to promote the EU's contribution.
A proportion of the funding was withheld and, under EU regional aid rules, will be reallocated within the same UK region to other projects which qualify for EU grants.
Mr Van Lierop said: "The indication could be a mention on a website or in a leaflet, and for bigger projects we ask that on the billboard during the building works it states that it was co-funded by the EU. Once the project is finished, there should be a little plaque but you don't have to wave a big flag above a project: that's nonsense."
He added: "We're not fining anyone. The UK authorities oversee the proper spending of taxpayers' money, and if it isn't mentioned that it is co-funded by the EU, a small percentage of the total is re-allocated to other projects in the same area.
"We don't want to be flying the EU flag above any kind of project, but it's normal to have some indication of involvement: these stories are total lunacy."
Another EC Commission spokesman said: "It's true that in EU regional funding there is a legal obligation to indicate where funding comes from - and with a big discussion just starting on the future EU budget, it's important to flag up the added value of the EU."