EU pushes for tougher rules on violent video games


BRUSSELS -- European Union justice and home affairs ministers Tuesday agreed to push for tougher rules on the sale of violent video and computer games to children.

"These terrible things continue to promote violence," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said at the end of three days of talks with his EU counterparts in Dresden, Germany.

Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said it backed proposals by the European Commission to seek common sanctions against retailers selling violent games to underage children. German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries also said she will raise the issue of violent games produced and sold outside the EU at a G8 summit in June.

The initiative was broadly welcomed by other ministers.

"Access to children should be cut off," Luxembourg's Justice Minister Luc Frieden said. "We have to ban some games."

Italian Justice Minister Clemente Mastella called for an authority to decide on acceptable standards for videogames. And Spanish Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said the "EU has to send out the message that we have to protect our children."

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told those at the meeting that the EU's member governments should seek to ban violent games. He called on EU ministers to urge Internet companies, game makers and retailers to take part in voluntary self-regulation to prevent the sale of such products to children.

Frattini also has suggested that EU ministers adopt labeling rules for all 27 EU member nations, with age restrictions and parental advisory warnings. Several individual EU countries, including Germany and the U.K., already label the most violent games.

Frattini has promised to file new and stricter rules governing the sale of video games to children under the age of 16 before this year's summer break.

"I want to harmonize rules punishing people illegally selling products, people not controlling and checking identity," he said. However, he stressed that the EC wil abstain from suggesting what kind of video material should be banned for younger kids, adding, "We cannot judge from Brussels which videogames should be prohibited."

Germany, which bans such products, has put the initiative high on its EU agenda following last November's incident in the north German town of Emsdetten, where an 18-year-old computer games addict wounded 11 students at his school before killing himself.

Although the industry operates a self-regulated ratings system for video and computer games -- the 2003 Pan European Game Information -- retailers in most EU countries are not legally obliged to restrict the sale of adult classified products.

There also are wide differences among EU nations in regard to what constitutes unacceptable material and fears that it will be extremely difficult to impose common standards.