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Europe

Europe Aims to Stop Terror

The fight against terror in Europe will continue in earnest as European Union Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) meet tomorrow in an informal two-day gathering in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

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Eyes and ears of the EU

The meeting in the Catholic pilgrimage town in the northwestern region of Galicia will be led by Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Justice Minister Angel Acebes.

Dominating the agenda will be two issues: closer judicial co-operation with the United States in the war on terrorism, and controlling illegal immigration.

New urgency

The events of September 11 have prompted the European Union to re-examine its security policies and galvanised it to take steps to strengthen and intensify the relations between the EU and the United States. Co-operation comes at the police level and between courts.

Spain, which holds the current presidency of the EU, has made the fight against terror a top priority and is now pledging to build on progress achieved by the JHA 15-nation bloc since September 11.

EU-wide arrest to combat terrorism

Last year the JHA's proposals for a joint anti-terrorism policy included a EU-wide search and arrest warrant, as well as extradition procedures.

This means that terror suspects sought in one EU state will be pursued by police in all 15 and, once caught, will face automatic hand-over to the country where they are wanted.

Ministers also grappled last year over a common definition of terrorism, aiming to eliminate legal loopholes used by suspected terrorists to evade justice. This issue could come up again in Santiago de Compostela,

Lacking common guideline

The EU states have until now combated terrorism, crime and domestic guerrilla movements with widely differing legislation and practices.

In fact only Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Portugal and Spain currently have statues on ‘terrorism’ in their criminal codes.

Discrepancies have led frequently to delayed extradition and trials.

France has tried in vain since 1995 to extradite a suspected Algerian Islamic militant, Rachid Ramda, from Britain. Ramda is wanted in connection with a wave of attacks in France in which eight people were killed and 200 injured.

Europol’s role

The September 11 attacks also prompted the EU and the United States to sign a general agreement in December last year to exchange information on terrorism and other serious crimes.

The EU’s common police force, Europol, is seen as a key to making it happen.

In this context, during this week’s meetings the ministers are expected to redouble efforts to make the Europol more effective.

Tackling illegal immigration

The interior and justice ministers will also discuss ways of turning away the increasing number of illegal immigrants who arrive in Europe each year in hope of a better life.

Discussion will also focus on combating criminal networks who profit from smuggling people into Europe. The volume of trade in human trafficking is estimated at about $30 billion annually.

The EU has already put forth several proposals to deal with this menace, including a 30-day waiting period for any non-EU citizen victimised by human traffickers, to decide whether to co-operate with authorities.

If the victim co-operates, she or he can obtain a six-month visa, allowing access to the labour market, education and health care.

Other issues that the ministers will deal with over the next two days include xenophobia, cyber crime and the rights of children whose parents are divorcees.

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