19 March 2004
MADRID – European Union ministers were holding emergency talks Friday to agree how to respond to the bombings in Madrid that killed 202 people.
They are considering a proposal to create a single anti-terrorism official to coordinate the work of various national agencies and governments, the BBC reports.
The ministers were discussing calls for greater sharing of intelligence.
However, observers expect several states will resist the idea of creating a Europe-wide intelligence agency.
The proposals from the meeting will be put to a summit meeting of EU leaders next week.
Similar emergency meetings – of home affairs ministers and then EU leaders – were held in the wake of the 11 September attacks in 2001.
A number of measures were agreed then – such as an EU-wide arrest warrant, joint investigative teams, and better intelligence sharing.
But not much changed, and the attacks in Madrid have forced EU governments to try again to co-ordinate their fight against terrorism.
This time, there will be a proposal to create some kind of “counter-terrorism tsar” – a single official to bring together the work of various agencies and ministries.
It is likely that the counter-terrorism coordinator will work under the EU’s security chief, Javier Solana, pulling together all the measures being taken in the security field by ministers of transport, justice, foreign affairs and finance.
The need for deeper intelligence co-operation will also be discussed – though several governments will resist the idea of creating a CIA-style EU intelligence agency.
A third plan is to make it easier to cut off terrorists’ finances by freezing their assets across borders.
Another is to improve co-operation over tracking e-mails and mobile phone records to enable investigators to trace calls made by terrorist suspects.
But justice and home affairs are areas of EU politics that are notoriously hard to co-ordinate.
Intelligence agencies in particular are by their nature secretive and unhappy about sharing information.
Germany was incensed by Spain’s initial refusal to divulge information about the kind of explosives used in last week’s attacks.
The EU’s interior ministers tend to be reluctant to give up their national powers.
For years they have been trying to move towards common asylum and immigration policies, but it has not happened: the member states continue to make up their own rules.
Subject: Spanish news