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Europe

EU Summit Focused on Terrorism

European Union leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss improving intelligence joint gathering and coordinating counterterrorism measures in the wake of the Madrid train bombings.

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The Madrid attacks have galvanized the EU.

The two-day summit is set to be dominated by security concerns following the deadly train bombings in Madrid on March 11 that killed 190 people and injured more than 1,800. The attacks, the worst in Europe since the 1998 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, have lent a new urgency to the EU's efforts to forge a unified and coordinated counterterrorism policy.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (photo), whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, urged his counterparts to "act decisively and in a spirit of solidarity" to tackle terrorism. "The terrible acts in Madrid … are a chilling reminder that the threat posed by terrorism affects all of us and requires a common EU response," Ahern said in a letter to EU leaders on Wednesday.

Making progress on combating terror

A meeting of EU justice and interior ministers last week saw the member states making progress on agreeing to pool their resources and facilitate the sharing of information on threat groups to better combat terrorism and pre-empt further attacks.

Thursday's summit is expected to see the appointment of Dutchman Gijs de Vries, former deputy minister in the Dutch foreign ministry and once a member of the European Parliament, as the EU's first "anti-terrorism czar."

Leaders will sign a declaration of solidarity pledging automatic assistance -- including military aid -- to any member state attacked by terrorists. They will also warn developing nations that aid and trade benefits with the EU could be lost if they do not cooperate in the war on terrorism.

The 25 European leaders are also expected to commit their governments to a June 30 deadline to implement counterterrorism measures, some which were adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. but weren't enacted by all members.

In addition, summit is expected to address the underlying causes of terrorism by underlining the need to find solution to global crises including the Arab-Israeli conflict and speeding up the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraqi government.

Romano Prodi (photo), president of the European Commission said in an interview with the Financial Times on Wednesday, "Force alone cannot win the fight against terrorism," and added that "Europe's response must be more wide-ranging than the American reaction."

Divisions persist

Despite widespread agreement on the need to coordinate efforts to tackle terrorism, differences still need to be ironed out among member states on the best way to go about it.

Both French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have misgivings about sharing sensitive intelligence with all 25 current and soon-to-be members. The two fear that such a move would invariably lead to damaging information leaks that could play into the hands of terrorist outfits like al Qaeda.

The two leaders are also opposed to establishing a European intelligence agency, modeled after the CIA as proposed by Belgium and Austria. France has also suggested that information-swapping be limited to a small core group of the five largest EU states, including Italy, Spain and Germany, which have the largest intelligence services.

Germany lags

But this week Germany called for delays on measures to fight terrorism across the European Union on account of its decentralized system, which slows decision-making.

Berlin said it wanted to drop the June deadlines for implementing the European arrest warrant, the creation of joint EU investigative teams, improving police and judicial cooperation and measures to counter money laundering as well as the tracking and freezing of terrorism funds.

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