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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 15:21 GMT
Italy U-turn on arrest warrant
Silvio Berlusconi
Critics said Berlusconi may himself have feared arrest
Italy has backed down over its refusal to accept a European arrest warrant.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced after talks with Belgian leader Guy Verhofstadt that he would, after all, back the warrant.

The Italian Government had previously blocked the idea, claiming it would jeopardise national sovereignty.


Italy accepts the European arrest warrant as defined at a meeting of justice and interior ministers on 6 December

Silvio Berlusconi
The rest of the European Union is keen to adopt the warrant as part of its efforts to tighten security and law enforcement after the 11 September attacks.

The arrest warrant would mean that people wanted for any of 32 specified crimes - ranging from terrorism to paedophilia - could be arrested in any EU country. The suspects would be handed over without the right of appeal.

But last Thursday Italy sent the plans into disarray by revealing at a ministers' meeting that it would veto the warrant.

The Italian stand prompted speculation that Mr Berlusconi - who has faced tax investigations in other European countries - could have been basing his objections on concerns for his personal future.

But after talks in Rome with Mr Verhofstadt, Mr Berlusconi announced his U-turn.


I'm very happy that Italy, along with the rest of the other EU members, has accepted the arrest warrant as presented and defined by the ministers

Belgian PM
Guy Verhofstadt
"Italy accepts the European arrest warrant as defined at a meeting of justice and interior ministers on 6 December," Mr Berlusconi said, reading from a statement.

And he said Italy would have to adapt its judicial system to ensure compatibility with the European move.

"Other nations have set 2004 as a date for implementing this accord and we expect a date sometime around there for us... although it could be after that," Mr Berlusconi said.

"If we can't change the constitution, then we will remain outside this agreement... just as Britain and others have remained outside the euro, for example," he added.

Mr Verhofstadt welcomed the Italian reversal.

"I'm very happy that Italy, along with the rest of the other EU members, has accepted the arrest warrant as presented and defined by the ministers," he said.

The European Union, which holds a summit at Laeken in Belgium this weekend, had been keen to avoid an embarrassing difference of opinion over the arrest warrant.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Webb
"Under intense pressure Mr. Berlusconi has now given way"
See also:

10 Dec 01 | Europe
Q&A: The EU Laeken summit
08 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy heads for EU showdown
08 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Italy urged to reconsider warrant
06 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy blocks EU warrant plans
03 Dec 01 | Europe
EU to push through terror laws
16 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Agreement on EU-wide arrest warrants
19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair welcomes EU anti-terror support
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