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EU: Emergency Meeting Aims To Tighten Antiterror Cooperation In Wake Of London Bombings

An emergency meeting of EU justice and interior ministers took place in Brussels today. The meeting was called by the EU’s British presidency in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July. EU ministers looked at ways of speeding up the introduction of antiterrorist legislation across Europe. They were also expected to tighten the implementation of some existing measures, especially those relating to terrorist financing, tracing telephone, and e-mail records, and the exchange of information between national law enforcement agencies.

Brussels, 13 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The British presidency of the EU was not expected to propose any new antiterrorist measures today.

Instead, Britain’s home secretary, Charles Clarke, said he wants the EU to put its existing legislation to better use.

Speaking before the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday, Clarke said the EU must start tackling terrorism with an “increased urgency” as a result of the London attacks.

"The human right to travel on the underground in London on a Thursday morning without being blown up is an important human right to settle alongside all the human rights with which we have to deal," Clarke said.

Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini also said security must be seen as “one of the most important fundamental rights."

Clarke suggested at the European Parliament that there is a "hierarchy" of civil rights. He said the right to a fair trial and being able to go to work freely are more important than, for example, the limitations on privacy that will accompany some of the measures needed to increase security. These include a wider use of surveillance cameras and identification cards.

An advance copy of the declaration that was expected to be adopted at today’s meeting -- seen by RFE/RL -- provides a detailed overview of how antiterrorist legislation is to be tightened in the EU.

In order to strengthen the EU’s capacity to pursue terrorists across borders, the document says the introduction of a number of measures -- already agreed – must be speeded up. The application of others must meanwhile be made more effective.

Thus, the EU will by the end of the year agree a new pan-European evidence warrant, improve the exchange of information between national law enforcement agencies and improve the fight against terrorist financing.

Among other measures, Britain is seeking to impose an EU-wide requirement for telephone and Internet companies to retain records of calls and e-mails for at least a year.

In early June, the European Parliament rejected a similar proposal in a nonbinding vote in June. Deputies fear the requirement would infringe unjustifiably on the privacy of EU citizens.

Clarke said it is crucial for law-enforcement agencies to have access to phone and e-mail records when pursuing and prosecuting terrorist suspects.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday the measure would deliver major benefits for a relatively low cost.

“Mobile telephone operators and some Internet service providers already keep this data as a matter of in-house policy or by accident. Second, there may be some cost, but it is, surely, a cost we ought to pay for the preservation of human life. And yes, last Thursday’s terrorist outrage took place in London, but its victims, it will transpire, will be of nationalities across the European Union and indeed across the world as well. We are all victims of this terrorism,” Straw said.

Currently, data retention rules in the EU vary from country to country.

EU ministers are also aiming to agree a coordinated policy to fight terrorist recruitment in Europe. British authorities believe the London attacks were carried out by young British-born Muslims who may have had terrorist contacts abroad.

Speaking in London today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he will immediately start working with the Islamic community to counteract the radicalization of young Muslims.

"We will seek to debate the right way forward in combatting this evil within the Muslim community, with Muslim leaders, and it's our intention to begin this process immediately. In the end this can only be taken on and defeated by the community itself, but we all can help and facilitate and we will do so," Blair said.

Ministers in Brussels are expected to agree an EU action plan on the issue by the end of the year.