Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

EU drags its feet in choosing new `anti-terror' chief


Despite tensions in Britain over the failed bomb plots, the EU seems in no hurry to appoint a new "anti-terror" chief and even appears to doubt whether one is needed.

The post was vacated for "personal reasons" in March by Gijs de Vries, a Dutch diplomat named the EU's first-ever "counter-terrorism coordinator" in the wake of the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

As European security underwent urgent review, his brief was to ensure that member countries kept their commitment to fight cross-border crime and share "terror-related" intelligence.

But the sense of urgency of those times has gone.

"There was some internal debate about the possibility of replacing him. The post wasn't too high-profile, not too exciting, so his departure didn't really upset anyone much," a senior EU official said.

Another EU official, also talking on condition of anonymity, said: "If the Germans had wanted to make it a priority, they could have" during their six month EU presidency which ended on June 30.

Yet the appointment of de Vries recalled that of former US Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who was named amid fanfare in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"When de Vries was named, it was a post with visibility. We needed a point of reference for the outside world," said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The senior official said the creation of the job was "above all a move to satisfy the press and the United States, which likes to have a Mr X" it can pick up the phone to talk to.

Indeed de Vries traveled to the US as the EU's "Mr Terrorism," meeting with then secretary of state Colin Powell.

But in reality his mission was quite modest: mainly checking that the 2004 "anti-terror action plan" was applied and improving cooperation with third countries on cross-border crime.

Still, right from the outset, former German interior minister Otto Schilly questioned his legitimacy in a "humiliating way," witnesses at a first meeting de Vries attended said.

Some of his duties also ruffled feathers at the European Commission. For others, de Vries provided "extra EU visibility to the outside world".

"It's thanks to his efforts that countries ratified the UN conventions on terrorism. We had meetings on terror financing with Morocco and Algeria, and he explained the EU's policies to Arab journalists," another official said.

"No one state could have done all that," he said.

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