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Europe and Counterterrorism: Strengthening Police and Judicial Cooperation

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The September 11 terrorist attacks have given new momentum to European Union (EU) initiatives to combat terrorism and other cross-border crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and financial fraud. For many years, EU efforts to address such challenges were hampered by national sovereignty concerns, insufficient resources, and a lack of trust among law enforcement agencies. However, the terrorist attacks and the subsequent revelation of Al Qaeda cells in Europe has changed this status quo as it becomes increasingly evident that the EU’s open borders and different legal systems allow terrorists and other criminals to move around easily and evade arrest and prosecution. Thus, EU officials have renewed their efforts to harmonize national laws and bring down traditional barriers among member states’ police, intelligence, and judicial authorities. As part of this initiative, the EU is also seeking to enhance active ongoing cooperation with U.S. law enforcement and judicial authorities so that information can be meaningfully shared and suspects apprehended expeditiously.

Although the EU has made progress since last September on measures aimed at boosting police and judicial cooperation within the EU and improving coordination with appropriate U.S. counterparts, the Union faces significant political, legal, and cultural hurdles as it seeks to implement more effective law enforcement tools. For example, although the EU has agreed to establish an EU-wide arrest warrant to eliminate extradition proceedings among the member states for 32 offenses–including terrorism–it will not take effect in all 15 member states until 2004 because some countries must first change their constitutions. National police and intelligence services remain reluctant to share information with each other and with Europol–the EU’s fledgling joint police body. Contentious issues such as the use of the death penalty in the United States and different data protection regimes could also slow progress on more robust U.S.-EU cooperation.

The Bush Administration, backed by Members of Congress, supports EU efforts to strengthen its counter-terrorism capabilities, and welcomes initiatives aimed at complementing and perhaps enhancing ongoing cooperation between U.S. and EU member states’ intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The United States hopes to conclude an agreement with Europol on personal data sharing as soon as possible, viewing it as essential to a closer working relationship in criminal investigations. U.S. policymakers are also willing to discuss with the EU a judicial cooperation agreement, which they hope will permit the extradition of EU nationals to the United States. Nevertheless, whether U.S. judicial authorities or Members of Congress would be willing to forgo the possibility of the death penalty for suspected terrorists in order to achieve an extradition accord with the EU is an open question. Working-level U.S. police and judicial officials caution that an eventual U.S.-EU judicial accord must not reduce existing strong bilateral relations to the level of the lowest EU common denominator.

This report will be updated as events warrant.


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