- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

PARIS — Divided over political alliances and their demands for a European constitution, EU leaders are coming together on one priority: preventing more terrorist attacks on the continent.

The European Union will begin high-level talks today on proposals that would oblige the soon-to-be 25 member states to cooperate more closely in fighting terrorism.

These include the enforcement of a “solidarity clause” committing nations to support and assist one another in response to terror attacks and the appointment of a special EU commissioner to coordinate antiterrorism operations in Europe.

European ministers also will debate new and “more efficient” measures to strengthen coordination in the following areas: criminal and justice cooperation; deeper dialogue with non-EU nations, particularly the United States; money laundering and financing of terrorism; threat assessment and intelligence; and security of transportation networks.

A European Commission spokesman said the proposals — to be discussed by the European Union’s justice and interior ministers today and by its foreign ministers Monday — would be decided quickly and should take effect “without further delay.”

“Normally, new measures take some time to implement,” spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said. “But now, we expect to put these actions into place within days or weeks.”

Until now, European intelligence services have been reluctant to share information with one another. One French intelligence officer interviewed by the newspaper Le Monde accused some countries of “playing the lone soldier against networks that are international.”

But with mounting evidence of an al Qaeda role in last week’s bombings in Madrid, Europeans are realizing they have no choice but to fight terrorism together.

“It won’t be easy to coordinate so many different member states, but it’s essential; there is too much at stake,” said Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative for foreign and security policy.

Mrs. Gallach said it was too early to discuss whether airport-style security checks would be introduced along Europe’s massive network of cross-border and commuter railways. But she suggested that such measures would be “of great difficulty to implement.”

The ministers may also look into securing Europe’s open borders; the EU Schengen accords now make it easy for terrorists to move from one country to another — a problem that could be exacerbated by the eastward expansion of the European Union in May.

Nicole Gnesotto, director of the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, said she was more worried about terrorists who are already in Europe.

“The problem is not that terrorism is trying to enter Europe, the problem is that it is already here,” she said. “The main issue is not to prevent terrorists from entering Europe, but to prevent them from acting while in Europe.”

Many Europeans have been skeptical about the U.S. call for an all-out war on terror. Although the attacks in Madrid, now known as 11-M, show Europe to be just as vulnerable as the United States, EU officials still are rejecting an “American-style” response.

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