Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Big Five decide

What a lovely expression that is: the Big Five (not, I hasten to add, the Famous Five, who were more useful in fighting all sorts of national and international baddies, as I recall).

It is redolent of early twentieth century and inter-war politics. Then it became the Big Three, then the two Superpowers and then there was one with the EU aspiring to be the other and so on.

The Big Five in this case are Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and their interior ministers met this week in Granada to co-ordinate the fight against terrorism. One wonders whether Charles Clarke regaled them with his own tales of woe at the stroppy House of Lords that would not let him pass whatever legislation he wanted in whatever form he wanted.

Anyway, they met in Granada and came to various agreements: to co-ordinate their approach to North African countries in order to be able to deport terror suspects back to their homeland. Actually, the French seem to be doing this already without any co-ordination and a goodly number of the terror suspects in Britain are not from North Africa. But never mind, it’s the thought that counts.

Agreement was reached on better sharing of information on such matters as fingerprinting, DNA, ballistics, criminal intelligence, stolen vehicle and identity theft. The precise method of sharing this information will be decided by a panel of experts to be set up, though the principle of it all was agreed by the ministers at the meeting.

There will be further work to develop exchange of information on people suspected of activities related to terrorism and on sharing information about air passenger movement.

There may be joint action to shut down websites of fanatical groups. This is a little ominous as the definition of fanatical is rather vague. If they mean terrorist then this may be the right time for France and Spain to stop pandering to some of their own Islamic groups and recognize Hizbollah and Arab Jihad as just that.

One cannot help asking: were there no exchanges of information between police forces in the past before the great and good Javier Solana came along and demanded greater co-ordination of activity? Was Interpol not operative? In fact, why do we never hear that word in these discussions?

Could it be that all these agreements have nothing to do with the fight against terrorism and everything with the ongoing attempts to integrate police and judicial activity across the European Union?

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