Germany is to revive plans to criminalise Holocaust denial as well as the use of Nazi symbols in all EU countries, making them punishable by up to three years in prison.
Ministers in Berlin have identified the move as a priority of Germany's six-month presidency of the EU which began on 1 January. Its efforts come against the background of the formation in the European Parliament of a far-right group, Identity, Sovereignty and Tradition.
However, the proposal is certain to provoke controversy, particularly in the EU's new members in eastern Europe where politicians have objected to any legislation that would ban Nazi insignia but permit the use of Communist symbols.
Brigitte Zypries, Germany's justice minister, said: "We have always said that it can't be the case it should still be acceptable in Europe to say the Holocaust never existed and that six million Jews were never killed."
The European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Franco Frattini, has pledged its support for the German push. A spokesman said: "This would give a good signal that there are no safe havens for racists or xenophobes in Europe."
Two years ago, Luxembourg tried to use its EU presidency to push through legislation that would have made Holocaust denial an offence. That push was blocked by Italy's centre-right government. Since then a centre-left government has taken control in Italy and the prime minister, Romano Prodi, is unlikely to oppose the measure.
However other countries, including the UK, Denmark and Sweden, had misgivings fearing that freedom of speech would be compromised. The European Commission says it is confident the law will be sufficiently well-drafted to ensure that genuine historical debate about the Nazi era would not be impeded.Reuse content