Two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, the EU agreed to work more closely to fight terrorism. But little actually changed until Europeans realized, years later, that they were threatened by terror too.
Europe was shocked into action by the Madrid bombings on March 11
It took the bombs in commuter trains that killed 191 people in Madrid on March 11, 2004 for European Union leaders to recognize that they had to cooperate to fight terrorism and that they had to act more quickly.
"We have to do everything so we can operate as preventively and efficiently as possible, to be able to operate across borders," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said at the time. "Europe as a whole faces a challenge."
Former Dutch Deputy Interior Minister Gijs de Vries is the EU's first anti-terrorism coordinator.
The European Union appointed Gijs de Vries (photo) their anti-terror coordinator and he was charged with improving communication and the exchange of information among the numerous European intelligence services and police departments. De Vries plans in September to establish a body to coordinate the various security services and to take steps to strengthen the European justice agencies EUROPOL and EUROJUST in the Hague.
"We are creating in Brussels a place where our national services can work together to analyze the trends in terrorism," de Vries told Deutsche Welle.
"We have looked at EUROPOL allowing police organizations to exchange information. Our public prosecutors and others exchange information through EUROJUST so that they can work better together across borders. We put laws in place against the financing of terrorism. Terrorists need money. We must make sure they don't get it. And, again, that takes international cooperation."
The 25 EU member states will continue pursuing terrorists themselves. Europe doesn't have a police force and doesn't plan to establish its own intelligence agency, according to de Vries.
Recently though, Germany and Italy were among the last EU states to endorse establishing European arrest warrants which will make it easier to arrest criminals throughout the bloc.
Two men carry young hostages who managed to escape from the school building after special forces entered the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Friday 03 September 2004. Streams of hostages fled the besieged school in Beslan in southern Russia Friday amid intensive shooting and a series of powerful explosions that signalled a bloody end to the three-day stand-off with terrorists. Foto: Yuri Kochetkov dpa
In the wake of the bloody hostage-taking in southern Russian Beslan, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, called for improved transcontinental cooperation.
"There is a growing awareness that we have to do more, first of all, in the European Union itself," Bot said. "But in trips that I made recently to Asia and the Middle East, I've also stressed the fact that we must cooperate more closely between all continents. What we need is an increased exchange of information," Bot said. "You dispose of many facts and information; We have our special sources. If we can pool them, we can fight terrorism more effectively."
After long negotiations, the EU finally agreed to exchange information on airplane passengers with the United States. But data protection advocates are critical of the long lists of information. Starting in 2004, EU states will issue their citizens passports with biometric data, such as finger prints and digital photos, that will make it more difficult to forge them. The EU will crackdown harder on illegal immigration. Both steps have also been harshly criticized by human rights groups.
Anti-terror coordinator de Vries lamented that Europe is sometimes viewed as being too weak on terror. In contrast, he drew attention to the Europe-wide police raids that resulted in the arrests of terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings. Four further attacks had thus been hindered, he said.
"These services can't put their secrets in the papers. When you prevent something, you don't see that something happening. So sometimes the successes are less easy to spot but they are real," de Vries said.
NATO, which, along with the EU, has its headquarters in Brussels, assured Russia its support in the fight against terrorism. But Russia's announcement that it will pursue suspected terrorists abroad was not well received in the European Commission, the bloc's executive body. Military preventive strikes do not belong to the EU's methods, a spokeswoman said. Russia has repeatedly criticized European countries and the United States, which it claims provides asylum to Chechnyan terror suspects.
Even now, Article 5 of NATO's Washington Treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more NATO member country will be considered an attack against all and was invoked after Sept. 11, 2001, is still in effect. Thus, President George W. Bush could theoretically request NATO support in the fight against terror. It would be up to the NATO states to decide whether they would fulfill his wishes.