But the difficulties of forging common policy in areas such as immigration and asylum loomed large as Spain held up all other business because of a bilateral dispute with Belgium, and the Netherlands said it could not sign anything without specific parliamentary approval.
It was the first time justice and home affairs ministers had met to work out common policies, but almost immediately progress was mired in procedural red-tape. Ministers managed to make progress in discussing a new extradition convention, including a suggestion that there could no longer be a 'political' defence against extradition. If taken up by member states, this provision would mean, for example, that suspected IRA terrorists seeking refuge in Germany could not claim protection from extradition by claiming their acts were 'political'.
'It will be a long time before we get to a full-blown convention, but the spirit of co-operation is in place,' one British official said. However, the Spanish said it was impossible to discuss a common extradition policy when 'it is not possible to have complete faith in the judicial system of particular member states'.
This was a reference to two Eta terrorists, arrested in Belgium, who cannot be extradited to Spain because they have asked for political asylum. The Commissioner for Immigration, who in Belgium is independent of the government, has said he will hear the case. Until extradition between member states is automatic, Spain argued, there is little point discussing a refinement of the rules.
The rules are currently far from rigid, thanks to the different legal traditions in member states.