Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

EU creates security post in response to bombings


Responding to the deadly Madrid train bombings, EU leaders on Thursday rushed through an anti-terror package, naming a former Dutch minister to the newly created post of security czar and pledging the use of military force to defend the bloc.

"We have reaffirmed our unity of purpose in fighting terrorism," said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

French President Jacques Chirac warned all states could be targeted by terrorists.

"You have to fight terrorism ... without making any concessions," declared Chirac.

Leaders were meeting in the aftermath of the March 11 Madrid bombings which killed 190 people and injured about 1,800 -- Europe's worst terrorist attack since the 1988 Lockerbie, Scotland Pan Am jetliner bombing.

Amid fears of attacks in other EU cities, leaders created a new position of counter-terrorism security chief to coordinate policy and appointed former Dutch deputy interior minister, Gijs de Vries, to the post.

As the EU's first-ever "Counter Terrorism Coordinator," de Vries is charged with keeping track and sharpening the bloc's anti-terror policies.

Leaders also issued a solidarity declaration vowing to "mobilize all instruments ... including military resources" if any member state is attacked by terrorists.

But Chirac and many others underlined that the "root causes" of terrorism also needed to be tackled.

"The international community has an obligation to resolve conflicts which are a potential source of terrorism," said Chirac.

Leaders offered to assist developing nations in fighting terrorism but also warned that EU aid and trade benefits could be lost if they failed to take sufficient action.

"If you want good relations with the EU, you must build up your counter-terror capacity," said Ahern.

The 25 present and future EU states were urged to swiftly implement already agreed upon anti-terror measures including a European Arrest Warrant, moves to combat money laundering and the freezing of suspected terrorist funds. A number of measures agreed upon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US have still not been put into force in all EU states.

Leaders called on the EU to consider new laws in a number of areas, including retention of mobile phone and other communications data; allowing cross border hot pursuit; creating a data base of forensic material; and improving the exchange of information on terrorists.

Intelligence sharing is key, but many governments remain reluctant to communicate sensitive information even to EU partners.

"In some cases it is better to work in smaller groups," said Chirac.

Turning to the EU's long-sought constitution, hopes were rising for a deal by late June amid statements by Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, that he will drop Madrid's hardline stance which helped torpedo a treaty at the last EU summit in December.

Poland, which along with Spain opposed a Franco-German demand for rewriting an EU power-sharing formula, is also showing signs of compromise.

"We are open for dialogue, we are open for compromise," said Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, adding, however, that Poland would not capitulate.

Germany, meanwhile, is sticking to hardline positions demanding so-called "double majority" decision-making in which the EU would approve measures if they win backing of 50 percent of the member states representing 60 percent of the bloc's population.

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