By By Bruno Waterfield

Federalists have been accused of hijacking the official opening of the new European Parliament session after soldiers raised the EU flag to the tune of Europe’s official anthem Ode to Joy.

Critics accused them of using the event to uphold the flag and anthem symbols of European Union statehood that were officially dropped after French and Dutch referendum rejections threw out Europe’s Constitution in 2005.

Leading the ceremony in Strasbourg, a detachment of combat troops marched to the overture of The Force of Destiny by Verdi, before raising an EU flag twice the size of the national flags around it to a military bugle call.

The troops – drawn from the Eurocorps member states of Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg – then stood to attention to a full orchestral and choral rendition of Ode to Joy.

Eurocorps was created in 1992 as a self-styled “force for the European Union” and is regarded as an expression of ambitions to create a Euro-army as part of a federal Europe.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “Today is the EU’s equivalent of trooping the colour. There is no pretence anymore. The EU is to be a fully militarised state.”

British MEPs have been angered by the European Parliament’s defiance in clinging on to EU symbols of statehood that were cut from the Lisbon Treaty after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected its predecessor, the EU Constitution, four years ago.

Timothy Kirkhope, leader of Conservative MEPs in the EU assembly, accused European federalists of hijacking the event.

“The parliament should focus on its efforts to increase democracy and accountability in the EU, rather than its attempt to create a federal Europe,” he said.

“These displays are Europe attempting to take upon itself a character that the vast majority of its citizens do not want.”

The linkage between the EU and military ambitions to create a European army is deeply controversial in Ireland as the neutral country, that has remained outside Nato, gears up for a second referendum on the Treaty on Oct 2.

Joe Higgins, a Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, said: “Why should there be military involvement in the European Parliament? I object to that. Is this part of a process of trying to get people used to the idea of a military EU?”

Fears of “militarism” played a major part in last year’s Irish rejection of the Treaty and the Eurocorps involvement in the parliament’s opening will be taken up by Ireland’s No campaigners over the next three months.

“Drafting in combat soldiers to raise the European flag is politically explosive as Ireland prepares to hold a second Lisbon Treaty vote and after the Irish government denied any link between the EU and militarism,” said Roger Cole of Dublin’s Peace and Neutrality Alliance.

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