European Union justice ministers, meeting in Brussels to agree on new anti-terrorist measures, are deadlocked over a key provision for a Europe wide arrest warrant that would replace member states' cumbersome extradition procedures. But the ministers have agreed on a common definition of terrorism, and are signing a deal with the United States to increase trans-Atlantic police cooperation.
The justice ministers were supposed to approve the common arrest warrant by Friday. Now, with strong divisions apparent over the issue, the debate seems set to resume next week when EU heads of state and government hold a summit in the Belgian capital.
The biggest roadblock to an agreement has been erected by Italy, which wants to limit the common EU wide arrest warrant to such crimes as terrorism and trafficking in drugs or human beings. But Belgium, the EU's current president, has drawn up a list of about 30 crimes, including corruption and fraud, to which the warrant would apply. And Italy says that would be too unwieldy.
Austria and Greece also say they could have problems adopting the common warrant because their constitutions prohibit the extradition of their own nationals. Under the proposed measures, a citizen of one EU country wanted in another on terrorism charges, for example, would be immediately extradited.
Despite their disagreements over the arrest warrant, the ministers did agree Thursday to a common definition of terrorism and minimum sentences for terrorists throughout the 15 nation bloc.
Terrorism, as now defined by the EU, applies to groups or individuals who commit or threaten to commit murder, kidnapping or hijacking with the intent of intimidating the people of a country. It also covers actions aimed at coercing governments or destroying countries' political, economic and social institutions.
Under the new provisions, the leader of a group found guilty of committing terrorism would be sentenced to a minimum 15-year jail term. Members of the group would get at least eight years in jail.
The EU is trying hard to be seen as a full-fledged partner of the United States in its war against global terrorism. To that end, it has entered an agreement with Washington that will allow the EU's fledgling police agency, Europol, and U.S. law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and coordinate investigations related to suspected terrorists.
In the past, such cooperation has been spotty and, in some areas, will continue to be so. Many EU countries, for example, are still resisting U.S. pressure to share personal confidential data on their citizens and residents with U.S. law enforcement authorities.