By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels
The European Commission has rejected calls for a proposed Europe-wide ban on Nazi symbols to be extended to cover Communist Party symbols as well.
Franco Frattini has called for a wider debate on totalitarian symbols
EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said it would not be appropriate to include the red star and the hammer and sickle in a draft EU law on racism.
But he called for a wider debate on the use of totalitarian symbols.
A group of MEPs from the former communist bloc had urged a ban on Soviet symbols alongside Nazi ones.
In a letter to the European deputies, Mr Frattini said the Europe of today was united and free precisely because it had freed itself of the two great authoritarian regimes of the 20th Century - Nazism and communism.
They differed in their origin and fate, Mr Frattini added, but were similar in having slaughtered perfectly innocent people regarded as objective enemies.
While calling for a wide-ranging debate on Europe's past experience with extreme ideologies, the EU justice commissioner said it would not be appropriate to include a ban of Soviet communist symbols in a proposed Europe-wide law on racism and xenophobia.
His spokesman, Frisco Roscam Abbing, said it would be better to leave it to individual EU countries to ban specific symbols.
"I think it would be hard to explain and unwise if we tried to harmonise it at European level," Mr Abbing said.
MEPs say the hammer and sickle is a reminder of a painful past
He said EU citizens would find it difficult to understand such a ban, saying the case was one which would be best left to individual member states, under the principle of subsidiarity.
The draft law will be discussed by EU justice ministers on 24 February.
Until recently, it had been blocked by Italy, Mr Frattini's own country, whose government includes the National Alliance, a party which traces its roots to Italy's wartime fascists.
But the debate was reopened last month by a row over pictures showing Britain's Prince Harry wearing a German soldier's uniform with a swastika armband at a fancy-dress ball.
Last week, several conservative Euro-MPs from the former communist bloc - led by former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis and Hungarian Joszef Szajer - asked for communist symbols to be treated in the same way as Nazi ones.
They said it would show that Europe condemns on equal terms the evils of communism and Nazism.
They agreed, however, that any pan-European ban could be construed as an infringement of freedom of speech and might be better left to national governments.
Germany has banned the public display of Nazi symbols, while some new EU members, like Hungary, have bans on both fascist and communist symbols.
But despite the EU's recent embrace of its former communist neighbours, views on recent history still differ.
Some centre-right MEPs went as far as to accuse Western politicians of double standards, not only in dealing with the past, but also with present-day communist regimes.
The group said they opposed EU moves to ease sanctions on Cuba and plans to lift an arms embargo against China.