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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Fast track for EU arrest warrants
French police and soldiers patrol Charles de Gaulle airport
The warrant is part of the EU's anti-terrorism proposals
Six European Union countries have pledged to introduce a Europe-wide arrest warrant by the start of next year - a year ahead of schedule.

Fast track countries
Belgium
France
Luxembourg
Portugal
Spain
UK
The six countries have agreed to draw up new legislation required to implement the warrant.

Under the new laws, when an arrest warrant for a serious crime is issued in one country, police across the EU would be obliged to hunt down and hand over the suspect.

The warrant is a key part of the EU's response to the 11 September attacks but became a source of dispute when Italy initially refused to sign up to it.

Speeding up investigations

Spain, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and the UK agreed to press ahead with the warrant's introduction during a meeting of justice ministers in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.


We want to show that we are very serious when it comes to making sure that those who commit terrorist acts stand no chance

Luxembourg Justice Minister
"We want to show the citizens of our countries that we are very serious when it comes to making sure that those who commit... terrorist acts stand no chance," said Luxembourg's Justice Minister Luc Frieden.

The European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vittorino, welcomed the decision, saying it showed that "discussions about a common justice zone are not just rhetoric".

The warrant will cover 32 serious crimes, ranging from terrorism to money laundering and child pornography.

It aims to bypass the long and complicated extradition procedures which often hold up investigations of serious crimes.

Italy caused consternation late last year when it threatened to veto the proposals, but relented at the last moment.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said that his country still intended to implement the laws by 1 January 2004, but only if it could make the necessary changes to its legislation.

Ministers are in Santiago de Compostela for an informal two-day meeting to discuss ways to crack down on illegal immigration in the EU as well as improving judicial co-operation with the United States.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Europe
Terror tops Spanish agenda
28 Dec 01 | Europe
EU arrest warrant to help Spain
31 Oct 01 | World
Spain moves on ETA suspects
10 Dec 01 | Europe
EU fights to save defence deal
08 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy heads for EU showdown
26 Jun 01 | Europe
Belgium's EU agenda
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Spain
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