EU seeks anti-terrorism agreement

BRUSSELS – Faced with a tight deadline, European Union justice ministers are hoping they will be able to agree today on establishing a single European arrest warrant and defining a list of terrorist organizations by the end of the year. The 15 EU nations have been at pains to agree on what crimes should come under a new single warrant to replace laborious bilateral agreements. The issue has overshadowed the sense of unity on such issues as beefing up border security and on an EU definition of a terrorist act. Spurred by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the ministers have been working on a long to-do list to be finished by the upcoming December 14-15 summit of EU government leaders. It also called on them to cooperate more closely with the United States of America in fighting terrorism, as well as closer EU police and security coordination at home. US officials have been pleased by the EU’s quick response to requests from President Bush for more help in terrorist investigations. Cooperation between the EU and the United States post-September 11 began almost immediately… in the fields of airport security, to the financial freezing of assets, said a US government official, who refused to be identified. However, several EU nations have reservations over how the joint arrest warrant should be applied and what should it cover. Italy stands alone in wanting a shorter list of offenses for which crimes the warrant should apply, while the other 14 agreed on a list of 30 offenses, ranging from terrorism and trafficking in people, arms and drugs to murder and child pornography. Meanwhile, Austria, Greece and Denmark have said they could have problems adopting the warrant as their constitutions bar the extradition of nationals to other EU nations, throwing another wrench into negotiations which touch on tightly held areas of sovereignty. In the definition of terrorism, ministers have yet to agree on which crimes shall be considered terrorist acts, as well as on penalties for those crimes. Meanwhile, civil rights activists have complained that the proposals could give EU police excessive powers to crack down on groups and activists, like anti-globalizationists, to prevent them from carrying out legitimate protests. The ministers are also seeking standard prison terms for terrorists among the member states. The EU has already moved to freeze the accounts of individuals and groups suspected of having links with international terrorist groups and has conferred a range of new powers on Europol, its police investigations unit. Efforts have also been under way to improve protection against chemical and bioterrorist attacks, and the EU’s head office has introduced proposals to set up a joint crisis center to coordinate emergency responses to potential terrorist attacks within the Union.