German politicians called for such a ban last week after the publication of pictures of Britain's Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi officer at a fancy dress party.
Prince Harry has issued a public apology. However, German deputies from all major factions of the European Parliament have seized on the issue, with one senior member of the Bavarian Christian Social-Union telling the German paper "Bild am Sonntag," "In a Europe of peace and liberty there can be no room for Nazi symbols."
Franco Frattini, a vice president of the European Commission, yesterday expressed support for the idea. His spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, told journalists in Brussels yesterday that the commission is ready to look into the matter provided EU interior ministers give their approval at a meeting later this month.
"Commissioner Frattini is very willing to take an very active role in this debate and if [this idea is] found useful [by EU member states] to undertake research on the possibilities of such a ban and [the] usefulness of such a ban," Roscam Abbing said.
Roscam Abbing said Frattini thinks now is a "good moment" to launch the discussion, which he said would cover "a number of very well known Nazi symbols."
Frattini is particularly interested in the discussion as a means of relaunching a wider debate on an EU-wide law outlawing racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. Attempts to introduce such legislation were blocked two years ago by Italy, which argued for postponing any discussion until after the EU's constitution is in place.
Frattini's comments suggest Italy is now ready to go along with the debate. Frattini himself was Italy's foreign minister prior to joining the commission last year.
The commissioner's spokesman yesterday indicated, however, that Frattini is concerned that the discussion on fighting anti-Semitism and similar matters does not undermine the freedom of expression of EU citizens. "[Frattini] is in particular stressing the fact that we should be very careful in this debate, so as to make a distinction between the fight against anti-Semitism, discrimination, fascism, and Nazism, and the freedom of expression. It's sometimes a very thin line and obviously we will need to take that into consideration," Roscam Abbing said.
Asked by RFE/RL if the debate to ban Nazi symbols might be extended to paraphernalia associated with other repressive ideologies, such as communism, Roscam Abbing said, "Frattini has not said anything about any other symbols." He added that the commission has presently no stance on communist symbols.