The 12 countries of the European Community, spurred by the recent wave of bombings in France, have decided to adopt a series of tough new antiterrorism measures. The countries' interior ministers agreed at a meeting here to greater cooperation in exchanging intelligence information and to improve extradition arrangements so that alleged terrorists may more easily be brought to trial.
British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, who chaired the emergency meeting, announced at the close of yesterday's session that the EC countries will also tighten up requirements for the issuing of visas to non-EC nationals.
And in the future, he said, tough action would be taken to curb abuses of immunity by countries believed to be involved in terrorist activity. One of the options under study is regular X-ray scanning of diplomatic pouches that pass across international frontiers and are not normally subject to inspection.
The interior ministers decided that a vital weapon in the fight against terrorism is more effective joint analysis of information about terrorist groups and their activities. At present, governments gather a lot of information about the movements of terrorist suspects, but the channels for disseminating it around Europe are not as sophisticated as they could be.
The ministers considered proposals to computerize information in greater detail and establish a reliable network for sending, receiving, and evaluating the data as it continues to flow.
The new visa requirement is part of the EC strategy for dealing with a major dilemma that the latest terrorist upsurge has exposed: how to reconcile the EC's declared aim of making it easier for people to move freely between the member states with today's tighter frontier controls in Europe.
The dilemma is especially evident in the case of France and West Germany. The two countries have set out in recent years to relax border restrictions between them.
After talks in Bonn on Wednesday with West German Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann, Hurd had said that Europe could not move toward open internal frontiers if the effect of that was going to be a decrease in the safety and security of nations and individual citizens. He added: ``If controls at internal borders are to be reduced, then consideration must also be given to tightening controls at common external borders, so that we may be more confident that those inside the community have a right to be there.''
During their discussions, the interior ministers ruled out mandatory identity cards for all European citizens, partly because the system would be difficult to introduce and operate, but also because of the likelihood that many European citizens would object. Identity cards are common in France and West Germany, for example, but Britons have traditionally resisted such measures.
It also seems unlikely that the EC will sanction the creation of a joint rapid-reaction, antiterrorist squad for deployment in Europe.
There were reports earlier this week that Britain's crack Special Air Service regiment was put on standby for possible antiterrorist operations in France, but national sensitivities might preclude its use, except in the most dire emergency.