- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

BRUSSELS — EU leaders yesterday picked a former Dutch government official who was born in New York as the bloc’s first antiterror czar to bolster the continent’s defense after the deadly Madrid train bombings.

Gijs de Vries will coordinate the work of the European Union’s foreign affairs and interior departments, similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The leaders also will study ways to streamline the sharing of information on threat groups, but they stayed away from establishing a European intelligence agency modeled after the CIA, proposed by Austria.

Mr. de Vries, a former deputy interior minister in the Netherlands, holds joint U.S.-Dutch citizenship and will start work on Monday and report to Javier Solana, who heads the EU foreign and security department.

“He has the right profile for the position,” Mr. Solana said. “What is important is coordination. All the internal, domestic aspects of terrorism need to be tied in with the external, international aspects.”

The appointment of Mr. de Vries was one of a series of emergency measures enacted by EU leaders in the wake of the Madrid bombings. Others included:

• Improving cooperation among their police and intelligence services.

• Enacting laws on an EU-wide arrest warrant.

• Increasing border controls and tracking of phone records.

• Cracking down faster on terrorist finances.

• Creating a European database of terror suspects.

“The threat of terrorism is a threat to our security, our democracy and our way of life in the European Union,” said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. “We’ll do everything in our power to protect our people from this threat.”

Mr. Ahern chaired a meeting of presidents and prime ministers from 25 nations who gathered in a grim mood for a summit barely 24 hours after many of them joined tearful relatives of the 190 victims at a state funeral in Madrid.

A sense of embattled unity from the bombings has prompted EU nations to bury old differences that go beyond responses to terrorism. The leaders are expected to reopen talks on the bloc’s first constitution, three months after they ended in acrimonious stalemate.

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