European Union interior and justice ministers have approved proposals aimed at strengthening their countries' ability to fight terrorism. The proposals include a uniform definition of terrorism, a Europe-wide arrest warrant, and relaxation of legal constraints on extradition of suspected terrorists.
Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne, who presided over the meeting called in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States last week, says he hopes the new measures can take effect early next year after they are ratified by the parliaments of individual countries.
The proposals are expected to be approved by the EU's heads of state and government, who are gathering for an emergency session Friday in Brussels that was also called as a result of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Mr. Duquesne says the EU's objective in giving the green light to the proposals, is two-fold. He says it wants to prevent terrorists from operating within the European Union. But he says it also wants to improve EU cooperation with the United States in police and judicial matters.
The ministers urged that financial loopholes that now allow terrorists to fund their operations be choked off. That means banks will be monitored more strenuously. And it means that stronger measures against money laundering will have to be adopted.
One aspect of the new package that could go into effect immediately is the beefing up of border controls between EU members and third countries. And EU officials do not discard the possibility of random internal border checks between EU countries.
The essential element in the new anti-terrorist legal tools, say EU officials, is the common arrest warrant whereby suspects sought in one EU country for terrorism, or such crimes as trafficking in drugs and human beings, will be pursued by police in all 15. That will be coupled with streamlined extradition procedures that will allow judicial officials to automatically hand over suspects to the country where they are wanted.
Only six EU countries - Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain - now have anti-terrorist laws on the books. EU officials hope that the common definition of terrorism as a crime committed intentionally with the aim of altering or destroying a country's institutions and intimidating its people will be incorporated as soon as possible into every EU nation's criminal code.