In a move to help the United States in the fight against terrorism, justice ministers of the European Union have agreed to sign a key extradition deal with Washington.
The pact is part of Europe's effort to support the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. It will enable the European Union to handle extradition requests through one simplified procedure.
The extradition accord is linked to another pact that will allow American and EU police officers to share evidence, establish joint investigation teams and cut through bureaucracy in gathering information for terrorism and criminal cases.
"I think that it will make the cooperation between the U.S. and the EU in the fight against terrorism much more efficient and make the whole procedure much more simplified than the cases today where we have all these bilateral agreements between the member states and the U.S.," said Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen, who hailed the move.
Analysts say international cooperation is critical in the war on terror. French authorities this week arrested a Moroccan man in connection with a probe of the September 11 attack, and a Belgian court is currently trying 23 suspects with alleged links to al-Qaida, said to be responsible for the September 11 tragedy.
Tracking down terrorist money is another difficult job. Danish Justice Minister Espersen said the new agreements will help greatly in this area.
"We know that the financing of terrorism is a problem that we all face," said Ms. Espersen. "And these two new agreements will help in exchanging information regarding financial transactions and so forth."
EU diplomats say their nations will retain the right to deny extradition in cases where the death penalty could be applied and may also refuse extradition if the United States cannot guarantee a fair trial in a civilian court. These were major concerns among many of the 15 EU states, and Minister Espersen said the United States showed flexibility on the issue.
"First and foremost I must give a lot of credit to the U.S. team negotiating on behalf of the attorney general because we are 15 different member states who have different political views and the U.S. was very willing to be flexible and show understanding of the problems that are facing the European member states," she said.
Both agreements are to be signed at an EU/U.S. summit in Washington June 25. The pacts must still be ratified by all 15 EU members and the U.S. Senate.