EU leaders promise to agree European consitution by June

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The Independent Online

Spurred into action by the Madrid bombings, EU leaders gave new impetus to European integration last night, agreeing a pledge of solidarity over terrorism, boosting intelligence co-operation and promising to agree an EU constitution by June.

Spurred into action by the Madrid bombings, EU leaders gave new impetus to European integration last night, agreeing a pledge of solidarity over terrorism, boosting intelligence co-operation and promising to agree an EU constitution by June.

One day after the state funeral for the 190 victims of the terror attacks in Spain, the EU outlined a host of anti-terror measures, including the appointment of a former deputy interior minister from the Netherlands, Gijs de Vries, as EU anti-terrorism co-ordinator. They also began casting aside the divisions that blocked agreement on the draft EU constitution at an acrimonious summit in Brussels in December.

Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland which holds the EU presidency, emerged from talks last night to declare he had a mandate to conclude negotiations "within the Irish presidency" which ends in June.

Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, hailed the development as a "real breakthrough on the path to a constitutional treaty". One EU diplomat added that the Madrid bombings have "brought member states closer to each other", adding that it had taken "a crisis" to galvanise European governments to step up their co-operation.

Tony Blair arrived in Brussels from Tripoli following his meeting with the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, and the outgoing Spanish premier, Jose Maria Aznar, was attending his final EU summit.

Both men backed a symbolic declaration that committed EU countries to mobilise all instruments, "including military resources", to prevent a terrorist attack in another European nation or help in the wake of one. A package of anti-terror measure called for an increase in the flow of intelligence to Europol, and the EU is expected to extend the work of its Situation Centre, which provides threat assessments from external terrorism.

Its remit is expected to be extended to cover internal terrorism. The European Commission will be asked for new plans to beef up security on ships and at harbours. And there will be work to strengthen civil protection, essential services and establish surveillance, early warning and alert procedures to deal with the aftermath of a terror attack.

Perhaps more important, the EU leaders set a deadline of June to put into practice many of the measures already agreed. These include an EU arrest warrant which will avoid the need to stage extradition proceedings. The measures were criticised by campaigners. Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties, argued: "Under the guise of tackling terrorism, the EU is planning to bring in a swath of measures to do with crime and the surveillance of the whole population. After the dreadful loss of life and injuries in Madrid, we need a response that unites Europe rather than divides it."

However there was no suggestion of any new powers to arrest or question terrorist suspects. Mr Ahern said there was a new willingness among member states to clinch a deal on the EU constitution, probably between the elections to the European Parliament on 13 June and the end of the month.

Last December's summit broke up in acrimony over the text of an constitution designed to aid decision-making when the EU expands to 25 members from 15 on 1 May. December's talks collapsed over member states' voting rights, with France and Germany pitted against Spain and Poland. Madrid and Warsaw blocked a "double majority" solution, under which most decisions must be passed by more than half the member states, representing more than 60 per cent of the EU's population.

Last night, after leaving the meeting, Mr Ahern said majority voting was the basis of a successful conclusion.

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