updated 3/19/2004 2:04:13 PM ET 2004-03-19T19:04:13

European Union ministers, vowing to cooperate against terrorism, agreed Friday to appoint a counterterrorism coordinator but rejected a proposal to create a European agency similar to the CIA.

The “counterterrorism czar” will coordinate anti-terrorist efforts across a spectrum of activities, from foreign policy to money laundering to cross-border police cooperation. The official will report to Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy and security chief.

New urgency for action
Since the deadly explosions last in Madrid, Spain, the EU head office has insisted on the need for more and better cooperation of national security services. It has also chided governments for dragging their heels in enacting anti-terrorist measures that were approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and urged them to remove “bureaucratic and technical” hurdles.

As a first step, the EU justice and interior ministers planned to beef up an existing intelligence threat assessment cell that has been operating at the EU headquarters since 2001.

German Interior Minister Otto Schilly told reporters that what the EU needed was an “information clearinghouse” to collect intelligence data “so we get a clear picture of the potential threat that we face at the earliest possible stage. The point is to first of all collect the data.”

He said the anti-terrorism coordinator could not be effective without the proper data.

No European CIA
But the ministers turned down an appeal from Belgium and Austria to establish a powerful pan-EU intelligence agency modeled on the CIA, concluding that their countries would be unable to coordinate their efforts that closely.

“We don’t want new institutions. We want action on those measures which have already been agreed upon,” British Home Secretary David Blunkett said.

“What I’m interested in is hard, practical action, like sharing of communications data which roots back the activities of terrorists, which gets into the use of mobile phones and Internet.”

The foreign ministers will take stock of Europe’s fight against terrorism Monday, as will the EU leaders who will meet in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the EU presidency, said this week that the Madrid attacks had caused terrorism to be seen “as one of the key threats to EU interests.”

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes made no comments to reporters as he arrived to brief his counterparts on the investigation into the Madrid bombings, which killed more than 200 people and injured 1,500 others. The blasts are believed to have been carried out by the al-Qaida terror network led by Osama bin Laden.

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