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Europe

EU Ministers Debate Counter-Terrorism Measures

European Union interior ministers are meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss how to deal with terror in the wake of last week's Madrid terrorist attacks.

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Time for change: National police forces have been poor at sharing information in the past

During the emergency talks called by German Interior Minister Otto Schily after the Spanish attacks that killed over 200 people, EU member countries will examine ways to fight terrorism.

No real shake-ups are expected from the meeting, nor are many new ideas likely to surface.

"It's not a question of reinventing the wheel in relation to how we deal with terrorism…, it's a question of making the wheel turn a bit faster," Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said on Thursday.

Increasing cooperation

The ministers may call for establishment of an EU coordinator for counter-terrorism, who would be responsible for bringing together security measures taken in transport, justice, foreign affairs and finance in the member states.

The action plan drafted by EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino suggests increasing cooperation and the exchange of information between national intelligence agencies, police and public prosecutors.

Europol Logo

Europol Logo

But several states are likely to resist Austria and Belgium's call for the creation of a European Central Intelligence Agency. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac have already dismissed the suggestion. Instead, the ministers will probably decide to strengthen Europol, the European law enforcement organization.

Vitorino's list of measures includes freezing terrorists' bank accounts and establishing a pan-EU database of terrorists' criminal records. The ministers are also likely to issue a declaration of solidarity with Spain.

Sluggish tempo

EU interior ministers' convened for an emergency meeting in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and agreed on a series of measures to fight terrorism, but most of them have yet to be enacted.

The European Commission said on Thursday that five EU countries had still not passed the European arrest warrant in their national parliaments. Several countries are also dragging their feet when it comes to adopting EU minimum and maximum sentences for terrorists and a common definition of terrorism. And 11 of the 15 EU members have not yet passed laws to allow police to make cross-border requests to eavesdrop on communications and monitor bank accounts.

It's also questionable whether the meeting will actually result in changes on the ground. Intelligence agencies are notoriously secretive and reluctant to cooperate with each other.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes is set to brief his EU counterparts on Friday on the ongoing investigation into the Madrid bombings. The Spanish authorities have been accused of withholding or even providing misleading information to the German intelligence agency BKA suggesting that the Basque separatist organization ETA was responsible for the attacks. German officials were thus unable to assess the security situation or aid in the investigation.

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