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EU plans radical anti-terrorism measures
Staff and agencies Wednesday September 19, 2001
The European commission today rushed through new proposals which would see a new Europe-wide definition of terrorism, and an EU-wide extradition process. The directive, which still requires ministerial agreement this December and to be passed by member states' own legislatures, will see the first major coordination of anti-terrorist measures across the continent.
At present only Britain, France, Spain and Portugal have a legal definition of terrorism, and suspects must be extradited across states.
The new proposals would end conventional extradition procedures by allowing an EU-wide arrest warrant.
The British government has already welcomed the scheme, and called for the laws to be put on the statute book as soon as possible.
The document defines a terrorism offence from a specified list of crimes which are "intentionally committed by individuals or groups against one or more countries, their institutions or people, intimidating them, aimed at seriously altering or destroying their political, economic or social structures".
In those circumstances, the crimes deemed terrorism include: • Murder • Kidnapping • Taking hostages • Theft • Seizure of "public means of transport" • The release of contaminating substances • Interference with public water or power supplies • Threatening to commit such offences.
The document goes on: "For the purposes of this decision a terrorist group shall mean a structured organisation, established over a period of time, of more than two persons, acting in covert to commit terrorist offences."
The EU proposals also include a call for all EU member states to set similar levels of sentencing for terrorist convictions. For example, it suggests there should be a maximum penalty of not less than 20 years for murder, and 15 years for causing "bodily injuries", when carried out in a terrorist context.
The replacement of traditional extradition procedures means that terrorists being sought in one member state cannot seek sanction in another.
An arrest warrant recognised throughout the EU alone would justify the delivery of a wanted person across the border.
The idea is that when the judicial authorities of one member state demand the surrender of a wanted person sought for an offence incurring at least four months' imprisonment, that request would have to be recognised and acted upon in any of the 15 countries.
The plan also allows for any sentence imposed on a convicted terrorist to be served in the country of arrest, if that solution is most likely to lead to the reintegration of that person into society.
The new plans require the endorsement of EU governments, and justice and home affairs ministers, including David Blunkett, who will meet his EU counterparts at emergency talks in Brussels tomorrow for a first consideration of the commission's document.
But detailed discussion is unlikely before next week with final approval not expected before a further meeting in early December.
That would mean the measures would not be implemented in national law in the member states before next year.
And although the purely EU measures have no direct impact on the American crisis over smoking out international terrorists taking refuge in Afghanistan, the hope is that Europe's response will be seen as a serious upgrade of its anti-terrorist legislation.
That is why the prime minister, Tony Blair, will be pressing at a special EU summit in Brussels on Friday for the swiftest possible implementation of the new measures.
"We are moving as fast as we can. These proposals have gone through the commission faster than planned, and if there is agreement on them at ministerial level in December, that will already be a dramatic acceleration the normal time-scale for completing these things," explained an EU official.
The commission said it is stepping up the campaign for genuine European cooperation in criminal, and particularly terrorism, issues on the basis of the automatic mutual recognition between the judicial authorities of the member states.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), September 19, 2001
How will the new law distinguish between terrorists and freedom fighters? How would a modern-day Ethan Allen or John Paul Jones appear in the light of the new law? If this had been passed twenty years ago, would the ANC have stood a chance at ending apartheid in South Africa?
Will this new law, in short, establish once and for all the security of The State, any participting state, to become whatever tyranny it pleases?
One of the things I loved most about my country was our insistence on preserving the means to overthrow ourselves, if we should see the need. Or am I premature, in putting that in the past tense?
-- L. Hunter Cassells (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 20, 2001.