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EU: New Counterterrorism Chief Takes Office

The European Union's new counterterrorism chief, Dutchman Gijs de Vries, appointed last week by the bloc's leaders, took office in Brussels yesterday.

Brussels, 30 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's new counterterrorism chief, Gijs de Vries, and his boss, the EU's top foreign policy official, Javier Solana, say their aim is not to set up new institutions but to improve the way the bloc tackles terrorism.

Solana told reporters in Brussels today that de Vries will have three basic tasks.

"I think [there are] three directions. [First], to have the [relevant] bodies of the European Union analyzed -- the work, how it is being done, the number of [ministerial] councils we have, the number of bodies that we have, to see how it can be done in a more efficient manner. Second, he has to do the preparatory work, so that the ministers of the interior and ministers of foreign affairs have as much information as needed [when taking] their decisions. And third, very importantly, that every country, when a decision has been taken by the EU, implements it," Solana said.

"We are living in an open society in Europe, an open society where people enjoy many liberties. It is important to preserve those liberties, to build on them."
De Vries will also oversee sensitive moves aimed at intelligence sharing between the security services and the police forces of EU member states.

Solana says de Vries will soon present a report on how this can be achieved.

De Vries will also head a new EU task force that will collate and analyze available intelligence and coordinate EU-wide action. However, EU leaders made it clear at their summit last week that the body is not intended to become the bloc's own version of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Solana said today that de Vries has the perfect background for the job. De Vries has represented the Netherlands in the European Parliament, acted as the country's deputy interior minister for four years, and finally represented the Netherlands at the convention which drew up the bloc's first draft constitution.

While de Vries today stressed that the EU must take the threat of terrorism seriously, he said this must not affect the level of civil liberties enjoyed by citizens of the bloc.

"Obviously, we are living in an open society in Europe, an open society where people enjoy many liberties. It is important to preserve those liberties, to build on them [and] that means, of course, that there can never be in any society a guarantee of 100 percent security. But what we can do, and what our citizens must expect, is that as governments and as institutions of the European Union we do everything within our power to strengthen collaboration and to make sure that all necessary measures are in place in time," de Vries said.

Both Solana and de Vries reject fears they may not have sufficient powers to force member states to act decisively against terrorism. De Vries said he considers the mandate given to him at last week's summit very strong.