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EU Ministers Hold Emergency Terrorism Meeting Friday - 2004-03-18

European Union justice and interior ministers hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to review security in the wake of last week's terror bombings that killed more than 200 people in Spain. The ministers are expected to agree on measures to better track terrorist suspects, but some observers say the meeting is more of a political event to show solidarity.

The EU's Executive Commission has proposed several measures - a register of convicts, a database of terrorist suspects, improved tracing of explosives and weapons, and better information sharing among intelligence agencies - to improve cooperation in the war on terror. These are among the items that will be discussed at Friday's meeting.

At the same time, the Commission criticized EU member governments for not moving fast enough to implement measures that had already been agreed upon after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino has urged member countries to make better use of Europol, the EU's joint police agency, and Eurojust, all of which have been set up to improve cooperation among judicial authorities.

Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy studies in Brussels, says last week's bombings in Spain have injected a sense of urgency into the cooperation process. "[The bombings] are accelerating a process that was already beginning, which is that the security forces all over Europe - the police, the prosecutors, and the judges - are starting to collaborate much more," he said. "That's a long drawn out process, which may take another 10 years or so. But it has certainly been accelerated by these events."

Some European observers say the EU is using Friday's meeting to ease public fears following the Madrid attacks and that the gathering is an important show of unity in the face of terrorism.

Fighting terrorism, however, will be a key topic on the agenda on next week's EU summit.