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News Archive    Printer Version February 06, 2007   

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Germany in U-turn on EU swastika ban

30.01.2007 - 09:30 CET | By Helena Spongenberg

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Germany has made a u-turn on its plan to criminalise Nazi insignia - such as the swastika - across the European Union, and will leave it up to the 27 member states whether or not to punish people who deny the Holocaust.

The move comes after European Hindu groups this month joined forces to fight the German plan saying that the swastika had been one of their religious symbols for around 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler's Nazi party adopted it in the 1930s.

Last week, the Italian government published a draft law which proposes penalties of up to three years in jail for inciting racial hatred, but which stopped short of making Holocaust denial a crime.

The German Justice minister Brigitte Zypries said earlier this month that Germany - which currently holds the six-month EU presidency - wanted to harmonise rules throughout the bloc for dealing with Holocaust deniers and for punishing displays of Nazi symbols, banned in Germany and eight other EU states.

But in an emailed statement, the German EU presidency said it would "not seek to prohibit specific symbols such as swastikas" when setting out plans for an EU-wide anti-racism law.

It would also not try to push all EU states to say it is a crime to deny that 6 million Jews were exterminated during the Second World War, guaranteeing "the member states the necessary leeway for maintaining their established constitutional traditions."

"The goal is to attain minimum harmonisation of provisions on criminal liability for disseminating racist and xenophobic statements," the German EU presidency said in the statement.

The European Commission proposed in 2001 an EU-wide anti-racism law, but EU states failed to agree, struggling over the issue of freedom of expression.

Two years ago, a Luxembourg presidency attempt to push through legislation to unify legal standards for Holocaust denial, was frozen after Denmark, Italy and the UK voiced concerns that it would violate civil liberties.

Germany is now considering reviving the Luxembourg idea which suggests that incitement to racism and xenophobia should be punishable by at least one to three years in jail in all 27 EU states, but leaves it to each state to decide on the specifics.

The Luxembourg blueprint, which Germany is studying, says that racist declarations or Holocaust denial would not be prosecuted if they were expressed in a way that did not incite hatred against an individual or group of people, according to the DPA news agency.

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