- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

When Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales meet with European Union Justice and Security chief Franco Frattini in Washington today, they will find someone who speaks their language on fighting terrorism.

And the agenda reflects a more and more shared approach to what is increasingly viewed as a common threat from Islamic extremism and terror.

An EU official, who briefed reporters in Washington this week on the condition of anonymity, said continuing progress was expected toward an accord on judicial cooperation.

The official said the accord would aim at “creating a legal framework which will enable … [European] prosecuting judges to exchange information with their U.S. counterparts.” In the system of justice adopted by most European countries, investigating magistrates play a similar role to U.S. attorneys in preparing cases for trial, and their ability to share information from ongoing investigations is strictly limited in law.

Mr. Frattini, who is vice president of the European Commission, sees combating terrorism as one of the European Union’s top priorities. It also regarded it as a way of reconnecting with Europeans who view Brussels as irrelevant to their daily lives.

“I consider the right to security, and therefore the right to life … a real pillar on which the other fundamental rights are set,” Mr. Frattini told members of the European Parliament recently.

Commissioners, who are nominated to the union’s administrative and rulemaking body by its member states, often clash with members of the parliament, who are directly elected by the citizenry.

When EU legislators accused Mr. Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister, of ignoring civil liberties concerns, he replied candidly: “The pendulum is swinging from the dictates of freedom towards the dictates of security: We have to adjust it very carefully.”

Mr. Frattini, a member of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing nationalist Forza Italia party, is also a loyal friend of the United States.

A group of EU lawmakers brought a case to the European Court of Justice last year, suggesting that the automatic computerized turnover of information on airline passengers known as Passenger Name Record, or PNR, information to homeland security officials in Washington was a breach of EU data-protection law.

Mr. Frattini backed the deal, and endorsed the American approach, saying: “I have read a report on U.S. data-protection laws, and I assure you that there is no risk of abuse of personal data in it.”

Nonetheless, the case remains before the court, symbolizing the tensions among the different institutions of the European Union, which on this issue at least, are probably worse than any between the EU and the United States.

U.S. and EU officials have just completed a joint review of the passenger-information agreement, “kicking the tires” as the European official called it.

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