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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
EU gears up to fight terrorism
Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy and Justice Minister Angel Acebes
Spain is one of six EU countries with a criminal definition of terrorism
European Union justice and interior ministers have approved tough new anti-terrorist measures, including an EU-wide search and arrest warrant.

Work on the new measures started two years ago, but was speeded up after last week's attacks in the US thrust the issue to the top of the political agenda.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett: EC worked unusually quickly
UK Home Secretary David Blunkett said he had not seen the European Commission work so quickly in the last four years.

A total of 37 measures have been proposed, and will be passed to an emergency summit of EU heads of state on Friday.

Later in Washington, the EU and the United States agreed to co-operate in a broad coalition "to defeat terrorism".

Delayed implementation

However, the need for parliamentary ratification means they are unlikely to become law before 2002.

Among the other measures are:

  • Creation of an anti-terrorist unit within Europol
  • Closure of financial loopholes that terrorists are able to exploit
  • Tough new border controls
  • A common definition of terrorism

French Justice Minister Marilyse Lebranchu said the common legal definition of terrorism, coupled with the EU arrest warrant would help eliminate the time-consuming red tape of extradition.

Only six EU states currently have a definition of terrorism in their criminal codes - Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

Definition

"A judge in one member-state country could recognise and act on a warrant issued by a judge in another," Ms Lebranchu said.


A terrorist group is a structured organisation... of more than two persons, acting in concert to commit terrorist offences

Proposed definition
But she warned that the new procedures would require much better co-ordination between police and courts than currently exists.

"We are not hiding from the legal difficulties we face," she said.

Some member countries will have to alter their constitution to allow extradition of their own nationals for trial in another member state.

The proposals define a terrorist group as a "structured organisation... of more than two persons, acting in concert to commit terrorist offences".

The offences range from murder and hostage-taking, to damaging public property and urban violence, committed with with the aim of "intimidating and seriously altering or destroying the political, economic or social structures of countries".

Liaison

The ministers urged the EU to "maintain international pressure on countries whose banking systems and traditions facilitate the generation and transfer of terrorist funds".

They also called for an exchange of liaison officers between Europol and the US, and for negotiations with the US on "an accord for the transmission of personal data".

Acknowledging that some of those named as suspects in the US attacks had lived and studied in Europe, the ministers urged member states to exercise "the greatest vigilance in issuing identity cards and residence permits" and to make new efforts to detect counterfeits.

Border controls

The proposed minimum penalties include a 20-year jail term for terrorist murder.

Ministers called for random checks on internal EU borders - many of them now invisible under the Schengen agreement - and stringent checks on external borders.

They said countries should be prepared to close their borders in the face of a terrorist threat of extreme gravity.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he believes Friday's EU summit will give a "very strong demonstration" of the firm measures Europe intends to take to tackle terrorism.

In Washington, the European Union and the US agreed to work more closely to protect their citizens.

"We will mount a comprehensive, systematic and sustained effort to eliminate international terrorism - its leaders, its actors, its networks," the two sides said in a joint statement.

The statement was issued after talks between US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and three senior EU representatives, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten and the EU's senior foreign policy official Javier Solana.

The measures include closer law enforcement co-operation, greater air security and more immigration controls.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Andrew
"Mr Blair will be briefing other European leaders on his talks at the Whitehouse"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | Europe
EU weighs response to US strikes
19 Sep 01 | Europe
EU acts on terrorism
18 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe tightens security
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