- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s justice and interior ministers yesterday shelved proposals to ban the use of Nazi symbols after failing to agree it could help fight racism and anti-Semitism.

Britain, Denmark, Hungary and Italy voiced concerns that a ban of symbols like the swastika could curb freedom of expression.

On the table was a proposal by Luxembourgian Justice Minister Luc Frieden that rules to combat racism should include a ban “on displaying symbols inciting hatred and violence.”

“The rules must not hinder the freedom of expression,” Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli told reporters, but he added that there could be room for a ban on racist symbols in soccer stadiums.

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said the goal of any ban on the use of Nazi symbols, which exists in Germany and Austria, “should only be used to fight neo-Nazis.”

A ban on such symbols was dropped because of opposition, she said. Talks resumed instead to draft common rules to fight racism and xenophobia.

During the talks yesterday, officials said, Mr. Frieden reiterated his call for countries to “act urgently” to agree on common rules to combat anti-Semitic and racist attacks.

Plans to ban Nazi symbols across the 25-nation European Union have been contentious. They were suggested by German members of the European Parliament after photographs surfaced last month showing Britain’s Prince Harry wearing a swastika armband at a costume party.

EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said the bloc’s Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini suggested a Europeanwide ban might go too far and recommended the matter be left to national governments.

“They have their own past and histories,” Mr. Roscam Abbing said, adding that it would be inappropriate to ban all use of symbols like the swastika, especially in teaching history in schools or its use in movies.

Slovak, Czech, Hungarian and Lithuanian EU lawmakers also have called for communist symbols, such as the hammer and sickle, to be included if the swastika is banned.

However, officials said not one former Soviet bloc state that is now a member of the European Union raised a request that communist symbols be included in rules to combat racism.

The EU draft on combating racism recommended that “public incitement to violence or hatred for racist and xenophobic purposes” be punishable with at least a two-year jail sentence.

Italy has been blocking a deal on the standards that would define racism and set out common aims to tackle it.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government includes the right-wing National Alliance, which fears its neo-fascist roots could bring it in violation of the new EU rules, if adopted. The party’s leader, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, has been trying to rid it of extremists.

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