Hitler anti-euro ad condemned
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Commission has attacked as "beneath contempt" a campaign in Britain against the euro currency featuring Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Cinemas in Britain began showing on Wednesday the ad in which British actor Rik Mayall appears dressed as Hitler, parodies his famous salute and declares: "Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Euro!" (one people, one empire, one euro).
The "No" campaign ad, which also includes an appearance by rock star and Live Aid founder Sir Bob Geldof, urges Britons not to accept the new currency.
Britain, Denmark and Sweden are the only countries in the 15-nation European Union that have not adopted the euro.
"The use of Adolf Hitler in this campaign is in our view in appalling bad taste and beneath contempt," European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told a news conference.
"To suggest this is simply just a laugh is insulting and panders to basic xenophobic instincts."
Jewish groups also slammed the commercial. The chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, UK Labour peer Greville Janner, called it "crass, distasteful and totally inappropriate."
One German official criticised the campaign as "despicable" and said it "shows some people have not learned the lessons of history."
Campaigners denied the Hitler sketch could offend. They said they had simply tried to get across the idea that the euro is undemocratic.
"No" group spokesman George Eustice told CNN's Diana Muriel that the ad was "not a problem at all" and it was "only a three second comical piece" in a 90-second commercial which addressed "serious issues."
And a British Euro-MP, who does not want Britain to join the euro, defended the advert and said it was just one aspect of the no campaign, which he said was aimed at engaging young people in a debate on joining the euro.
"I think that politics needs a bit of spicing up," said Nigel Farage, member of the European Parliament for the UK Independence Party.
"This just happens to be a fresh attempt to bring in some of the icons of the young and the apolitical and to get them into the whole debate on joining the economic and monetary union."
Stanley Kalms, treasurer of the opposition Conservative Party and a leading anti-euro campaigner, said the advert was merely a bit of satire.
But Kalms, who is chairman of retailer Dixons, also told BBC Radio there was a great danger that a Europe using the euro could become a single-party state.
Former Conservative minister and EU Commissioner Leon Brittan disagreed strongly, saying Kalms' warning about a single-party European state was "complete nonsense."
Besides Mayall and Geldof, the celebrities in the ad include British comedians Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and John Sessions, chef Gordon Ramsay and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Kate Hoey.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to apply five economic tests by mid-2003 to judge whether joining the euro would be in the UK's economic interests. If he decides it would, Britons will vote on the issue in a referendum, a political resort little used in Britain.
A recent survey by Barclays Capital found that anti-euro sentiment in Britain hit its highest level this year in June, when 49 percent of those questioned said no to the euro and only 36 percent were in favour.
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