Europe Looks for a New Anti-Terror 'Czar'

The European Union created a post of anti-terrorism coordinator after the Madrid train bombings in 2004. But getting more than two dozen sovereign nations to work together on such a complex subject has not been easy.

The post is vacant right now, amid a debate over how much power the next person to hold the position should have.

Annegret Bendiek, who published a study on the EU's counterterrorism strategy, was not surprised that the first appointee, Gijs de Vries of the Netherlands, stepped down in March.

Some call the position "czar," but Bendiek says it's really more a job for a network administrator who can evaluate how the 27 member countries of the European Union are doing at implementing anti-terrorism measures.

Some member states are simply not able to implement standards that might be expected of the European Union's largest nations, Bendiek says.

EU security policy is complicated. National governments retain authority in certain areas, but EU laws apply in others. De Vries says the biggest obstacle to progress is that all 27 members have to approve even practical steps in fighting terrorism. Unanimous decision making can just take too long, he says.

"It took six years for EU ministers of justice and the interior finally to have decisions implemented to strengthen the role of Europol, the European police agency in the Hague," de Vries said. "That simply isn't good enough. It took them a full year to find unanimity about the nomination about the successor to the previous director of Europol. That, too isn't good enough."

Since the Madrid bombings, EU countries have gotten better at sharing information about terrorist networks, de Vries said. And one way is through Europol.

Its director, Max-Peter Ratzel, acknowledges the agency still doesn't get as much information from national police or intelligence bureaus as he would like. But he says Europe is slowly shifting from sharing intelligence only among those countries directly affected — following a "need to know" principle. Now they're trying to share broadly in the hope that will turn up unexpected leads.

"The need to share principle means you have to evaluate your information, and you have to look for potential partners, even if you can't identify the partners very exactly, very precisely," Ratzel said.

In Brussels, diplomats are quietly debating whether the role of anti-terrorism coordinator should become more ambassadorial or more technocratic. Professor Nick Pratt of the Marshall Center for Security Studies says either way, the job needs more authority to counter the bureaucratic EU system.

"There were some comparisons made early on about the position of the EU counterterrorism coordinator and the position that existed in the National Security Council," Pratt says. "There are huge differences. In the U.S. you have someone who is trying to coordinate these operations and is dealing with departments. And they all work for the same president, and we have problems."

Some in Europe worry that efforts to streamline anti-terrorism policies at the EU to look more like the U.S., could erode public oversight and individual rights here. De Vries says America's current image makes the job of fighting terrorism difficult in Europe.

"The United States used to be known as a country of the rule of law and of liberty," he says.

Today, those associations are with the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, detainees at Guantanamo Bay and CIA renditions, de Vries says.

"That is sapping support for the United States, and also indirectly for Europe worldwide," he says.

It could take some time to hire Europe's next anti-terrorism coordinator. Officially, he will just be picked by the EU's foreign policy chief, but member countries will need to nod their approval.

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