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Europe

Italy Blocks EU Anti-Terror Agreement

The Italian government wants fraud and corruption dropped from a list of crimes that qualify for a Europe-wide arrest warrant

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

German government officials criticized Italy for delaying the passage of a Europe-wide anti-terror package, agreed upon this week by the European Union's 14 other member states.

At issue was a list of 32 crimes for which potential suspects could be arrested under a European-wide arrest warrant. Italy wanted fraud, corruption and money laundering dropped from the list, which had been worked on by the ministers in the months following the September 11 attacks. Italian EU representatives said they wanted to include only the most serious crimes and reduce the list to six.

"That is totally unacceptable," German Interior Minister Otto Schily said in response to Italy's counter-proposal. He speculated that the reasoning for Italy's "wrong decision" had to do with the "peculiarities" of the country's political landscape. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi still has an outstanding charge of tax evasion against him by a Spanish court and there are several outstanding suits against him in his own country.

The warrant, just one of several points EU justice and interior ministers discussed this week, is designed to ease the arrest and extradition of criminals wanted in another EU country. The list of crimes includes everything from car theft to weapons smuggling and terrorist attacks.

German government spokesman Bela Anda said Berlusconi was blocking important and pressing measures needed in the fight against terrorists. He said Chancellor Gerhard Schröder would take the issue up with Berlusconi at a meeting of heads of EU countries next week in Laeken, Belgium.

Italian justice minister Roberto Castelli said there would be no change of opinion, but added that the possibility to negotiate was still open.

"There is always a chance, up until the very last minute," he said.

Other EU officials said there was a possibility that the EU would implement the security package, including the arrest warrant, with or without Italy.

But the European Union's Justice Minister, Antonio Vitorino, said he was still hoping for a compromise. He said one might be found next week in Laeken.

"After that," he said. "We'll see what sort of alternatives are available. But only after that."

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