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EU: Terrorism Threat Exposes Weaknesses In Security Cooperation

  • Ahto Lobjakas

No fewer than three EU meetings in the coming days will attempt to grapple with the challenge of terrorism in the aftermath of last week's Madrid bombings. Moves by the bloc to combat terrorism began in earnest after 11 September 2001. But the European Commission is warning the upcoming week of meetings will in many respects have to start from scratch.

Brussels, 17 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- There is no shortage of antiterrorist initiatives in the EU these days. What they often indicate, however, is that much of the EU's antiterrorist campaign remains deficient.

Laws are missing, adopted legislation is not being implemented -- or, if it is, it is unclear by whom.

The biggest member states especially have been very reluctant to contemplate opening their intelligence services to requests from Europol or the security services and police forces of other countries.
More importantly, member states still appear to lack the political will to adjust their sovereignty where it really matters -- police cooperation and intelligence-sharing.

Perhaps with this in mind, the new initiatives show a marked top-down approach as a way of forcing the plan into action.

On 15 March, the EU's Irish presidency suggested the adoption of an antiterrorist "clause of solidarity" for the bloc.

The measure was initially meant to be part of the new EU constitution. But with the constitution stuck at an impasse, the solidarity clause will likely be added instead to the political declaration being prepared for next week's EU summit (25-26 March).

European Commission spokesman Pietro Petrucci yesterday commented on the potential impact of the solidarity clause.

"On the solidarity clause -- one concrete example is civil protection. That is, the possibility for the Commission and the Council [of EU ministers], mandated by the heads of state and governments, to ask those member states who are in possession of certain instruments pertinent to this field, to make them available to another member states. This would go faster if the [mechanism] is already in place," Petrucci said.

Another Irish idea, supported by Solana and the commission, is the appointment of a special EU representative on terrorism, who will be tasked with coordinating internal efforts and acting as a liaison at an international level.

However, interinstitutional rivalry has quickly reared its head, with member states wanting to retain control, while the commission wants the new position for itself.

Serious problems also remain on the question of legislation that would allow the EU to address terrorism in a coordinated and effective fashion.

Although the member states agreed last year to recognize a common EU arrest warrant, five -- Germany, Italy, Greece, Austria, and the Netherlands -- have yet to make it part of their own laws.

Another example is the "framework decision" on fighting terrorism, which was adopted last year in order to enable ministers to speak a common legal language on the issue.

But Petrucci says the commission has no clear understanding as to where things stand.

"There are a number of states whose legislation -- which is meant to transpose the framework decision [on terrorism] -- is, in our opinion, not perfect. It doesn't work. And there are three member states -- [and] this could seem strange -- whose procedure is not clear. We don't have all the documentation at hand," Petrucci said.

But Petrucci promises that EU ambassadors to Brussels, meeting tomorrow, will have the "full report."

Similarly, decisions on money laundering, freezing, and confiscation of terrorist assets, and joint investigation procedures have been adopted -- "but not properly or entirely" implemented.

Then there are pieces that are still missing. Petrucci mentions confiscation of crime-related proceeds, and protection from attacks against information systems as examples. The same applies to EU-wide recognition of confiscation orders and an "EU evidence warrant."

However, Petrucci stresses that common legislation is only part of the equation, and is worth little unless member states agree to genuinely pool their resources.

"The main point [to improve how legislation functions is] the exchange of information on convictions for terrorist offenses and cooperation between member states, Europol and Eurojust, [the body for EU-wide judicial cooperation]. So, about better information, there is the old, larger, wider debate on new mechanisms or even institutions. But this is for the heads of state, for the European Council [that is, the EU summit] to decide," Petrucci said.

This applies first and foremost to police cooperation and the pooling of intelligence resources. Both are fields which are jealously guarded by member states.

The biggest member states especially have been very reluctant to contemplate opening their intelligence services to requests from Europol or the security services and police forces of other countries.

In a sign that the Madrid blasts may have begun to change attitudes, the German Interior Minister Otto Schily suggested earlier this week that the EU's regular police chief meetings could be extended to heads of the national intelligence services.

Belgium last week went so far as to propose the creation of a common EU intelligence agency. But most other member states consider this too extreme.

Both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder indicated after a meeting yesterday that they are warming to the idea of closer police cooperation.

The political will of the bloc will be tested in the course of the next 10 days. The first test comes 19 March, with a meeting of EU interior ministers. EU foreign ministers will meet on 22 March, ahead of the bloc's two-day summit in Brussels.