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EU Plans Legal Measures to Fight Terrorism - 2001-09-19

The European Union's Executive Commission has proposed new measures that would allow prosecutors to conduct a Europe-wide battle against suspected terrorists by eliminating legal loopholes that now permit them, in many cases, to escape justice. The new proposals will be discussed Thursday by EU justice and interior ministers in a special session called after last week's terrorist attacks against the United States.

The European Commission wants search and arrest warrants issued by one EU country to apply across the 15-member bloc. Under the proposed system, French police, for example, could detain suspects under a warrant issued in Germany.

The proposals would also streamline extradition procedures among EU countries for terrorism and other serious crimes such as trafficking in drugs or human beings.

The proposals also include a standard definition of terrorism throughout the European Union. Only six of the group's 15 member nations now have legislation pertaining to terrorist crimes. And among those six countries, definitions of terrorism vary widely.

The EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, told the European Parliament Wednesday that terrorists and other criminals operating across borders take advantage of such legal differences between countries by exploiting loopholes created by the geographical limitations on prosecutors.

Mr. Vitorino's spokesman, Leonello Gabrici, says the proposals would do away with legal constraints and red tape that now hamper prosecution of suspected terrorists. According to Mr. Gabrici, the proposals would allow European countries to fight terrorism more efficiently. "For the first time, we're talking about an instrument which really does make it possible for there to be criminal law cooperation in Europe," he said. "We're not encroaching on member states' sovereignty. We're not creating a European FBI. But on the basis of mutual trust between the judicial authorities of the member states, we're creating a system where the same definitions would apply to achieve common objectives."

The European Commission has been working on the new proposals for the past two years. But it moved quickly to release them in the wake of last week's attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.