EU’s single judicial area, with US role

The European Union yesterday reached agreement in principle to establish common counter terrorism legislation and to work as closely as possible with the United States on the issue. At an ad hoc meeting of the EU’s justice and internal affairs ministers in Brussels yesterday, attended by Greece’s Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, the 15 members agreed to a proposal by the European Commission to institute a European arrest and extradition warrant for people suspected of having carried out terrorist acts, as well as a common definition of terrorism and its legal consequences. The final decision will be taken in December and will come into effect in January 2002. However, many decisions taken at yesterday’s council go into immediate effect, with regard to closer cooperation both between the member states’ police forces and those of the USA. Chrysochoidis told journalists that Greece was not prepared to agree to the imposition of measures that ran contrary to existing Greek legislation. The Greek constitution does not permit the extradition of Greek citizens to other countries, although Stathopoulos expressed the personal view that the ban did not extend to those accused of more serious crimes, such as terrorist attacks. Europol, the central coordinating body for European police forces, will be the main vehicle of cooperation, where a counter terrorism service is to be established. American officials will take an active part in meetings of this service, whose first mission will be the urgent collection of every piece of information related to the current terrorist threat. Europol will be in touch with US services such as the FBI regarding any information – including personal data – on suspects as well as phone taps and e-mail messages. Heads of member states’ secret and counter terrorism services will be meeting on a regular basis, as will judicial authorities within the framework of Eurojust, the nascent coordinating group. Member states were also advised to improve their methods of inspecting visa applications and issuing residence permits to visitors from third countries. European Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana were in Washington yesterday.

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