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EU: Former Dutch Minister Named New Terrorism Chief

The European Union has appointed its first antiterrorism coordinator. But already there is skepticism about the new post and what can be achieved.

Prague, 26 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Europe's new antiterrorism chief was named yesterday. He is former Dutch minister Gijs de Vries.

De Vries's main job will be to improve cooperation and information-sharing among European institutions involved in fighting terrorism. He'll also monitor how members are putting into practice antiterrorism measures, and he'll liaise between Brussels and non-European Union countries.

It's all part of a package of antiterrorism measures agreed on the first day of the EU's spring summit yesterday, which comes in the wake of the Madrid train bombings earlier this month.

But analysts say de Vries, a former minister with U.S.-Dutch citizenship, will have his work cut out for him.

Sergio Carrera is a justice and home affairs expert at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. He says the post is one of symbolic value rather than of substance.

"The new proposal has been to present this post of 'Mr. Terrorism,' which is going to be, in my opinion, rather symbolic. He's going to coordinate the cooperation in this field. But as you may know, cooperation, fighting terrorism, falls within the so-called third pillar of the EU, which means the cooperation is rather intergovernmental. So there's not really a community competence to check on the [implementation] of the measures adopted under this framework," Carrera said.

It's a point British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged today, too.

"Informally, I think, the cooperation has got better, and I mean I think it's obviously important to appoint a coordinator, as we've done. But the realistic probability is that we will only get the right cooperation if that is developed, as it were, on an informal level between the individual people who are running it in Britain, in France, in Germany and elsewhere," Blair said.

Some European countries have been reluctant to share their valuable secret intelligence. That's what sank the idea of setting up a European-wide agency along the lines of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Dick Leurdijk is a security expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

"If he is not given any powers to enforce an exchange of information, what can the man do? He can only ask for the exchange, urging for the exchange of information, underlining the need for cooperation. But as long as he has no powers to enforce his request, it's up to the national authorities at the national level of the independent intelligence services to decide whether they are prepared to exchange information -- yes or no. My fear is that he will find himself, after a couple of times, in a situation in which he realizes he is not able to enforce the kind of exchange of information that we, as civilians of the European Union, would expect from the union," Leurdijk said.

De Vries will report to Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, who said his new colleague has the "right profile for the position."

Born in New York, de Vries spent 14 years as a member of the European Parliament before taking up the post of deputy Dutch interior minister.

Leurdijk says many at home are puzzled by the choice.

"Many people here in the Netherlands were also relatively surprised to hear that he would be the man for the new post. He has had a function in the Dutch government a couple of years ago, he has been an MP [deputy] and for many more years a member of the European Parliament. But all these factors do not explain why he, especially, would be the best man [in] this place. So I'm a little bit surprised, too, about the nomination and the choice of him," Leurdijk said.

Another critic -- of the position, not the man -- is conservative commentator Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation think tank in the United States. In a commentary in today's "Washington Times" he writes that "the European answer in their 'no-war' on terrorism is more bureaucracy."

One of de Vries' jobs will be to check on how European Union members are implementing antiterror measures they already agreed to in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks. Those include an EU-wide arrest warrant, an agreed definition of terrorism, and cooperation in the freezing of terrorist assets.

European Parliament President Pat Cox today said not enough real progress has been made.

"In every one of those areas, I regret to tell you, it's true that not all 15 states have transposed the law. So now that we have a new coordinator to look at this stuff, the first thing [we should do] before we have new big ideas is to deliver on the old big ideas," Cox said.

De Vries starts his new job on 29 March.