A Year After Madrid, Counter-Terror Cooperation Among EU States Questioned

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - As Spain marks the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, senior European Union officials are giving varying assessments of how much safer Europeans are one year after the continent's deadliest terror attack.

Spain was expected to come to a standstill for five minutes at midday local time Friday, to remember the 191 people killed when Islamic terrorists bombed four trains in the capital on March 11, just three days before a general election.

A fortnight after the bombing, E.U. heads of state issued a declaration pledging the union and its 25 member states "to do everything within their power to combat all forms of terrorism."

The document laid out a series of initiatives aimed at finding and stopping the funders of terrorism, rooting out the causes of terrorism, facilitating free movement of terror-related intelligence among member states, and managing the consequences of an attack should one occur.

A year later, however, the president of the European Parliament questioned how much had been achieved.

"We need to recognize that not all the things we agreed in the emotion of the moment have been done," said Josep Borrell, a Spaniard.

Speaking at a special commemoration in Strasbourg, Borrell said not everything E.U. leaders had promised in the 2004 declaration had been fulfilled.

He cited insufficient cooperation among judicial and police authorities, difficulties in setting up the office of an E.U. public prosecutor, and delays in adopting a directive against money laundering.

Another problem that has arisen relates to implementation of a common arrest warrant, which is meant to make it more difficult for one member state to refuse an extradition requests from another.

A report by the E.U.'s executive Commission issued two weeks ago indicated some of the difficulties facing the initiative: Italy's parliament had yet to adopt the warrant and another nine countries were not applying it as they were expected to - for instance raising issues of national security or political discrimination as grounds to refuse an extradition request.

Another initiative, the appointment of a pan-European public prosecutor, has run into opposition in Britain, which does not want its national prosecutors outranked by an E.U. one when it comes to crimes involving E.U. funds.

It took almost a full year of wrangling before member states finally agreed last month on who should head the pan-European police agency, Europol, appointing a German as chief of the Netherlands-based body set up to improve cooperation among national police forces in combating terrorism and other international crime.

A new agency designed to monitor the E.U.'s external borders is also the subject of bickering, in its case over which city should be its home base. Disputes over who should head the borders agency have been predicted, too.

Another top E.U. official, anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries, has also given a pessimistic evaluation about how much E.U. states were doing in the fight against terrorism.

De Vries, whose post was created by the E.U. leaders in their 2004 declaration, told the Financial Times the biggest obstacle in the European counter-terrorism campaign was a failure by member states to implement initiatives they have agreed upon.

The E.U.'s justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, said Europe was more secure one year since the Madrid bombings, but added that more needed to be done.

In a report issued to coincide with the anniversary, he warned that "citizens will be denied the benefits of the E.U. counter-terrorism policy if member states fail to introduce E.U. legislation, on which they have agreed and in whose formulation they participated, into their own law."

Meanwhile, Spain's Interior minister, Jose Antonio Alonso, told La Vanguardia newspaper that he believed the risk of another terrorist attack in Spain was "appreciable."

Three days after the bombings, Spaniards went to the polls and handed victory to Socialists. The new prime minister, Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero, subsequently kept a campaign promise to withdraw Spanish troops from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Seven people suspected of leading roles in the train bombings killed themselves in a Madrid apartment last April to avoid capture by security forces. Of 75 suspects arrested in the investigation, 22 remain in prison.

An al Qaeda spokesman claimed the attack was intended to punish Spain for its involvement in Iraq, although counter-terror experts said another possible motive may have been the fact that Spain's former conservative government led the way in counter-terror activity since 9/11, arresting more suspects than another other European country.

Spain's southern coastline lies just a few miles from Morocco, and the country has long been viewed as vulnerable to radicals moving from Arab North Africa into Europe.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow