The European flag – twelve gold stars on an azure background – is a flag for the whole of Europe. It became the symbol of the European continent after it was chosen from hundreds of public entries to a competition launched by the Council of Europe, and was later adopted as the flag of the European Union.
Many imaginative ideas were sent in by members of the public, ranging from a play on the Olympic flag to an image of a tiger. But what caught the imagination of the Committee of Ministers was a letter from a European man living in Japan. Every evening, he would look up to the sky to see the planet Venus on the horizon, making him think of his home in Europe. Unfortunately, that flag already existed – it was the symbol of the Belgian Congo, later the Democratic Republic of Congo. So the ministers debated how to adapt the idea, and eventually decided that a blue background with twelve stars would be the perfect fit – twelve being a number that represented positivity, faithfulness, optimism and growth. Paul Levy, the Director of Information at the time, tells the story in the film "Imagine the European flag" (partially in French)
The flag is still the official symbol of the whole of the European continent and flies in the capital cities of countries that are Council of Europe members, but in 1999 the Council of Europe changed its official logo to avoid confusion with the European Union.