Howard claims European chemicals add to drug threat

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EUROPEAN nations are failing to prevent exporters selling chemicals to drug producers in Latin America, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, said yesterday. He attacked those that were not fully implementing a European Union regulation designed to prevent such traffic, but would not identify them.

'Lip service in implementing the regulation is not enough,' he told a meeting of interior ministers in Berlin. The countries involved are believed to be Germany and the Netherlands. Precursor chemicals such as acetone have many industrial functions, but are also used to turn coca paste into cocaine. Exports must be licenced for legitimate users. 'It is clear that precursor and essential chemicals from Europe are finding their way to South American countries, are being used to turn the coca leaf into cocaine, which is then finding its way back to Europe,' Mr Howard said.

The Home Secretary, one of the Cabinet's leading Euro-sceptics, made the issue a central theme of his presentation at an EU meeting which dealt mainly with relations with Central and Eastern Europe. Mr Howard focused on the failure of existing legislation rather than new plans, and on global action rather than Europe. In many ways, this symbolises the differences of view between London and Bonn over how European integration should proceed.

Yesterday's meeting is part of the EU's attempt to create a common policy on justice matters and home affairs, which was formalised as part of the Maastricht treaty.

Mr Howard made it clear that he opposed giving Europol, the proposed new European police agency, any broad new mandate or powers. Germany wants to turn Europol gradually into an arm of the European Union, rather than just a forum for information-sharing. But Mr Howard rejected this, saying: 'It's perfectly possible for Europol to develop effectively on an inter-governmental basis.' He also rejected German suggestions that Europol might carry out investigations like a Euro-FBI.

The meeting decided on a programme of co-operation with the Central and East Europeans against trans-frontier crime, in particular the drugs trade, nuclear smuggling, car theft, illegal immigration and money laundering.

These issues of trans-boundary crime are all of paramount importance in Germany, whose borders with Central Europe have proved highly porous to criminal activity.