Bid to smooth arrest warrant wrangles

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.43, 22.11.01, p9
Publication Date 22/11/2001
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Date: 22/11/01

By Martin Banks

LAST-minute talks were being held this week in a bid to iron out differences over the scope of the EU arrest warrant, which is due to be adopted by heads of state at next month's Laeken summit.

Italy and Ireland have voiced concerns over two key aspects of the document: the list of offences it will cover and the length of sentences for terrorism and other serious crimes.

Negotiations were taking place between representatives of the countries and the Belgian presidency in a bid to end the deadlock.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Representation to the EU said they would be participating "constructively" in the talks and still hoped to meet the

6 December deadline set by EU leaders.Her optimism was echoed by Leonello Gabrici, spokesman for European Justice Commissioner António Vitorino. He said: "We have the agreement of 13 of the 15 member states. Italy and Ireland have quite reasonably said they need a bit more time to clarify certain aspects of the warrant, but I am sure agreement will be reached."

Under the warrant, EU countries would have to hand over a detained suspect within 60 days of receiving an arrest warrant from another member state. Leaders are keen to fast-track its introduction in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks on the US.

The key stumbling-block, however, is the 29-strong list of offences it will cover.

At last Friday's meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers, there was general agreement on most of the warrant's contents which, apart from terrorism, covers other crimes such as murder, rape, human trafficking and drugs offences.

The warrant, however, could also be used in cases of fraud and against anyone expressing xenophobic views.

Ireland says these are two of the "insufficiently defined" offences on the list. The Irish EU spokesman said: "The list is too broad and general and, we believe, could be difficult to implement. We are close to agreement but the offences on the list have to be more clearly defined."

Italy is expected to suggest a compromise by putting forward a shorter list of offences.

The warrant is aimed at sweeping away lengthy extradition procedures in suspected terrorist cases.

Marc Verwilghen, the Belgian justice minister whose bilateral talks with Italy and Ireland are expected to continue into next week, remains confident agreement will be reached. He said: "The Italian and Irish reservations only concern the extent of the list of offences, not the principle, and we will work to find a compromise solution." He added it would be "regrettable" if agreement was not reached by 6 December.

Last-minute talks have been held in a bid to iron out differences over the scope of the European arrest warrant, which is due to be adopted by heads of state at the forthcoming Laeken summit.

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