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EU to Improve Anti-Terror Measures

Bernd Riegert (dc)July 9, 2005

The European Commission said it will speed up efforts to create an EU-wide intelligence network and improve its emergency plans in the wake of Thursday's bombing attacks on London's transport system.

The EU wants an improved intelligence-sharing networkImage: AP

The European Union is to speed up work on a rapid response program to coordinate pan-European reactions to large-scale terror attacks, such as the series of coordinated bombings that hit London on Thursday, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said.

"Next week, on July 13, the (European) Commission will discuss further measures in the fight against terrorism, in particular a proposal for a terrorism-related rapid response mechanism," Frattini said.

Bildgalerie EU-Kommissare Italien Franco Frattini
Franco Frattini

At the meeting, the Commission will ask governments to "work more quickly and all together…to create a computerised European intelligence network."

The EU has made similar statements in the past, and it remains to be seen whether the attack on London will help speed a process often criticized for being slow and ineffective.

Sept.11 was first trigger

Following the Sept.11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States, heads of state and government in the European Union agreed on the need to boost cooperation to better protect against terrorism. But for a long time, not much happened. Then, on March 11, 2004, terrorists struck on European soil, blowing up several commuter trains in Madrid. The EU renewed its vow to fight terrorism, even naming a new commissioner for the job.

Spanien Jahrestag Terroropfer Madrid Atocha
Commuters stand during five minutes of silence commemorating the victims of the March 11, 2004 train bombings at Madrid's Atocha train station, Friday, March 11, 2005.Image: AP

There was no shortage of declarations, action plans and papers. But putting proposed measures into practice in the EU member states has been a slow process. A year after the Madrid attacks, national intelligence services were still reluctant to invite outside scrutiny, said the EU's anti-terror coordinator, Gijs de Vries. On the other hand, much has already happened that the public is simply not aware of.

"The secret services can't print their secrets in the newspaper," de Vries said. "When you're frustrated by something, you only notice when nothing happens. The successes are hard to recognize, but they're there."

In November 2004, the EU approved the Hague Program, a re-worked action plan written in the aftermath of the Madrid attacks. Under the program, EU member states agreed to improve the exchange of information about terrorist activity among national intelligence agencies. The Hague-based EU police force, Europol, was charged with collecting and analyzing the information. But responsibility for complying in the program still rests with national security officials.

Arrest warrant a success

The Europe-wide arrest warrant -- a move that was long fought over -- is now in place. The EU Commission has already deemed it a success, as it has enabled more than 100 people to be arrested since February of this year. But only a few of those arrests were on charges of terrorist activity. In Germany, a lawsuit against the cross-border arrest warrant is pending before the Federal Constitutional Court.

Schengener Abkommen, Grenzkontrolle, Grenzpolizei, Grenze
German border police in actionImage: dpa

The EU is also improving its efforts to control its outside borders. There are already unified regulations on the granting of visas, but that has not yet been extended to asylum and immigration policy.

A new computer system called "Schengen II" should, in a few years, offer faster access to data on people entering the bloc, as well as police data. From this year, biometric information can be included in passports.

Another controversial point in the EU's anti-terror measures is the saving of data on telephone and Internet use over a longer period of time. The EU Commission proposed such a measure because telephone data played a key role in the investigation of the Madrid bombings.

Privacy a concern

Civil rights groups such as the British group "Statewatch" have repeatedly warned against unnecessarily strong infringements on privacy and civil liberties. US home security officials, on the other hand, have accused the Europeans of doing too little, too slowly.

Following the terror attacks in London, there is again new impetus for the EU to move forward its anti-terror measures.

On Friday, Frattini acknowledged that the rejection recently of the European Constitution in French and Dutch referendums was a significant setback, as the constitution contained important steps to integrate national efforts against terrorisms. "But there are some measures that can be approved ad-hoc," he added.