European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers say they want to improve the means to fight extremism and anti-semitism in Europe, including a possible ban on Nazi symbols. The move comes one day after Holocaust commemorations and in the wake of a swastika controversy in Britain.
Luxembourg Justice Minister Luc Frieden, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, called on EU governments to adopt proposals that have been under consideration for a long time. He said Thursdays memorial to the victims at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz make the matter timely.
"Racism is something that is incompatible with the fundamental values that are the basis of the European construction," he said. "And, therefore, I think we must conclude on this issue. The discussion has been going on for too long. I think we owe it also to the victims of Auschwitz and other concentration camps."
The most recent controversy about swastikas arose after Britain's Prince Harry was photographed this month wearing a Nazi uniform at a party. He later apologized, but that did not quash the controversy. EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini also received a threatening letter bearing a large swastika, saying he will never succeed in fighting Nazism in Europe.
The proposed ban on hate symbols is to come up at another meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers in February. Such a ban would require agreement from all EU governments, and could face obstacles in countries that fear it would damage freedom of expression. Some right-wing governments also fear some of their party members might be found in violation of new standards that would define racism.
Meanwhile, the ministers also discussed a plan to exchange information on criminal records. However, creation of a central criminal database is controversial among many of the EU's member states because of privacy issues.