European Union interior and justice ministers have dropped plans to ban Nazi symbols, but said they will revive debate on harmonising anti-racism laws.
Prince Harry made headlines when he stepped out in Nazi style
After Britain's Prince Harry was seen at a costume party with a swastika symbol on his arm, calls for an EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols have grown louder. To date, the swastika and other symbols of the National Socialist party are banned only in Germany and Austria.
On Thursday, the interior and justice ministers of the 25 EU countries met to discuss the possible ban of all Nazi symbols, as well as questions of visa regulation and other timely issues.
Anti-Nazi demonstrators in Dresden on Feb. 12
The ministers decided against a ban on Nazi insignia. At the same time they vowed to reopen talks on combating racism and zenophobia across Europe.
Britain, Denmark opposed
Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen said the decision was final. "It is better to drop any discussion on that. It does not add any value to the proposals," she told reporters. "It would only open a long debate on what symbols it should be."
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries called the move "regrettable" but admitted that the question of outlawing Nazi insignia was less important than ensuring that racism and xenophobia were severely penalized across the European Union. "The central issue for us is to ban expressions (of racism)," she said.
Great Britain, Denmark and other countries spoke against an EU wide regulation on the grounds that it would go against the basic right of free expression.
But the ministers did agree to reanimate a sleeping debate on regulating racism and xenophobia. In this case, Great Britain and Italy dropped up their blockade-like reaction. Among other things, the agreement would make it punishable by law to deny the Holocaust or other crimes against humanity.
Regulation on racism
But the racism regulation needs to be discussed with the 15 new European Union members from Eastern Europe, a process that is expected to take time.
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries
Zypries (photo) warned proponents of the actions that even if it does go into effect, it is not the solution to racism in Europe.
"Making something punishable by law can only be one part of the fight against neo-fascism. The most important job is to convince people that neofascist politics must be fought. Above all, that is a job for civil society."
Concerns over freedom of speech
The plan to outlaw Nazi symbols was first proposed in 2001, but talks collapsed after resistance from Italy's center-right government.
Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli from the populist Northern League, repeated Rome's concerns that the proposals could curtail the freedom of speech.
"I am favorable to reopening the debate," Castelli told reporters Thursday. "But there must be no provisions hampering freedom of speech and the question of symbols has to be tackled because it is very important."
Under the proposals, all EU countries would have to make punishable any attempt to incite violence, discrimination or hatred against any person or group on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin. The plans also seek to ban "condoning, denial or gross trivialization of crimes of genocide" such as the Holocaust, which killed more than 6 million Jews.