EC states combine to combat the Mafia

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The Independent Online
THE European Community, battered by financial and political storms, will seek to show today that co-operation can help defeat the Mafia and limit immigration.

A meeting of justice and interior ministers in Brussels will consider Franco-Italian proposals to co-ordinate efforts at tracking down, prosecuting and ultimately eliminating Mafia-related crime. The initiative was prompted by the assassination of the Italian magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

The threat from the Mafia is rapidly replacing Communism as the common enemy in Europe. The Maastricht treaty makes provision for closer inter-governmental co-operation in the fight against crime; France and Germany would like to see those provisions implemented to target Mafia crime. They argue that the Mafia is now so sophisticated and integrated into the fabric of economic society that it will take greater international co-ordination to expose its operatives.

The proposal suggests setting up a working group with would report twice a year to EC ministers on their progress. In addition the effectiveness of existing instruments such as extradition treaties should be sharpened, and projects such as a European version of Interpol, agreed in principle last year, should be properly realised.

There is also a more controversial suggestion that EC member states, before seeking help from other international crime-busting partners in the US and elsewhere, should make some effort to co-ordinate legislation so that legal definitions can be standarised.

Britain will offer no new initiatives. The meeting was called for by France and Italy and 'it would have been discourteous to refuse', said a Home Office official. The meeting will be chaired by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary.

Evidence of co-operation between Rome and Paris over crime was provided on Wednesday with the arrest of a suspected head of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's Calabrian Mafia at Marseilles airport. Dominico Libri, was detained as he got off a domestic flight from Paris in the southern French port. He was the sixth man to be arrested in a recent crackdown.

A Foreign Office spokesman said last week that the meeting would discuss immigration, which Douglas Hurd characterised as perhaps the most serious problem facing the EC. The surge of refugees from Yugoslavia has added to the number of asylum-seekers in Germany, and last weekend Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, warned of a risk to the country's political stability.

The European Parliament yesterday added its voice to calls for a common EC policy on immigration, asylum and refugees. MEPs condemned recent attacks on asylum-seekers in Germany and called on Bonn to 'set up urgently an action plan to stop the wave of xenophobic violence'.

Germany has some of the most liberal asylum laws in Europe. But, faced with 274,000 asylum requests in the first eight months of this year, there is pressure to reform these. Groups representing immigrants and refugees are concerned that rising racism is leading Europe to close its borders.

The elements of a common front on interior policy and immigration are slowly coming together as the EC drops internal borders. Yesterday customs officials unveiled their new computer, designed to replace existing export and import documents. It also allows customs officers to communicate on drug smuggling, and illegal trade in arms.