NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EU Officials Encounter Obstacles In Fighting Terrorism

October 24, 2001

The open borders around the European Union's 15 countries allow terrorists to move around the Continent with ease. But police and law-enforcement officials in those 15 jurisdictions are hampered in their efforts to cooperate by those very same borders.

While there is some cooperation among the police forces and magistrates of different European countries, it tends to be based on personal relationships rather than established protocols. Since criminal justice is a national issue in Europe, countries have different laws, different sentences and different definitions of offenses as well as differing cultural attitudes toward crime.

  • Terrorism, for example, is specifically recognized as an offense or an aggravating circumstance in just six EU nations.
  • Most countries refuse to extradite their own citizens and won't hand over foreign nationals charged with an offense that doesn't correspond precisely to their own criminal codes.
  • Experts say the result is a crumbling, leaky system that may be one reason why Europe has become a haven for terror groups.
  • Investigations are sometimes jeopardized by petty infighting between officials in various countries.

But all that may be about to change.

The attacks on the U.S. have had the effect of galvanizing efforts to increase judicial cooperation. Plans are afoot to create a European arrest warrant -- which would replace extradition.

If law-enforcement officials in, say, Italy were hunting a terrorism suspect believed to be in Belgium, they would issue a European warrant. Then Belgium police would be required to arrest that person and hand him over in a set period, according to proposals worked out by the EU's executive commission.

Source: Peter Gumbel, "Foiled Strasbourg Plot Underscores Obstacles to Fighting Terrorism," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2001.

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