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London Bombings Failed to Unify Europe's Anti-Terror Fight

Three years after Islamist extremists killed 52 commuters in attacks on London's public transportation system, the fight against terrorism in the Europe Union remains fragmented, experts say.

The EU rushed to show its unity in the weeks after the July 7, 2005 bombing of three London Underground trains and a bus. The EU drew up anti-terror pacts and appointed a counter-terrorism coordinator. Millions of euros were earmarked to fund studies analyzing the dangers posed by terrorism.

The result has been an information overload with very little to show for it, said Annegret Bendiek of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. It can feel like there is a certain amount of "terror hype" within the European Union, Bendiek said.

But there have been some "hidden successes," she said. Two years ago, Scotland Yard prevented a plot involving liquid explosives. Germany arrested two alleged "suitcase bombers," albeit only after their poorly-made bombs failed to go off as planned.

Security theater

Part of the problem is that many of the actions of Europe's intelligence services and criminal agencies remain secret, Bendiek said.

So instead of seeing the success stories, people see measures such as video surveillance, biometric passports, liquid controls at airports and data security. Rina Tanges, of the German privacy group Foebud, called these measures "security theater."

Georg Jarzembowski, a member of the European Parliament and the Christian Democratic Union, agreed with other experts that many of the measures do little to make citizens more secure.

"The EU Commission is afraid," Jarzembowski said. "Afraid that something will happen and that they could be responsible."

Data storage on a grand scale

Former EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, a tanned ex-ski teacher from Italy, brought momentum to the anti-terror fight. His proposals worried civil servants and angered privacy advocates.

Frattini called for a Europe-wide, integrated security system. He wanted to increase data exchange and create a comprehensive databank for terrorists and suspected terrorists.

Frattini's pet project, proposed at the end of 2007, proposed collecting 19 types of personal data from airline passengers and storing it for 13 years. The data would include personal email addresses and credit card numbers. Although this proposal remains under discussion in the EU, there has been agreement to give the data to the United States, where it will be saved for 15 years.

At around the same time, the EU parliament decided to cut back on the security controls at airports to allow people to travel more freely. One of the masures Jarzembowski finds pointless is the strict ban on liquids.

"The costs and delays to the airports are great, there is no increase in security and yet the EU commission holds on to it," Jarzembowski said. "I am furious."

Going at it alone

Frattini recently decided to give up his EU post to become Italy's foreign minister. His successor, Jacque Barrot, is over 70, low key and places an importance on privacy protection. In his first official speech, Barrot acknowledged to journalists that the cooperation against terror has not worked very well.

"Europol learns about some things from the press," he said in an interview.

The problem is that every country wants sovereignty over security issues, experts say. While the situation at the working level in Brussels has improved somewhat, as soon as issues of national security come up, intelligence services lose interest in working together.

"Each intelligence service holds on to its information and wants to cough up little as possible," said Jarzembowski. "This does not allow Europol to work effectively."

Austria and Belgium wanted to have a European version of the US Central Intelligence Agency, but that idea went nowhere.

"In the foreseeable future I absolutely don't se that happening," said Bendiek of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Especially after the Irish 'no' to the EU treaty there is simply no political wind for more EU integration."

Terror fight on the table

The EU's anti-terrorism coordinator is trying to fill this lull. The low-key Belgian civil servant Gilles de Kerchove has been given the ironic nickname of "Mister Terror." De Kerchove's job is to coordinate the actions between countries. But he has little power, a mini-budget and a small team to assist him.

"He is an absolute placebo," Jarzembowski said.

"It's a thankless job," said Bendiek.

De Kerchove was appointed after the post had been vacant for six months. But he has maintained his previous responsibilities as director for justice and police cooperation for the EU's General Secretariat. That full-time job leaves him with little time left for focusing on terror.

Ana Kuhn-Osius

Deutsche Welle, Bonn, 07. Juli 2008

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