EU justice ministers pledge to share information after Brussels attacks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers on Thursday called for rapid agreement on stalled plans to share strategic intelligence data after suicide bomb attacks this week in Brussels killed at least 31 people and injured 270.

Belgian soldiers patrol in the Grand Place of Brussels following Tuesday's bombings in Brussels , Belgium, March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The bombings at Brussels airport and on a crowded rush-hour metro train, only four months after 130 people were killed in Islamist attacks in Paris, laid bare the inadequacy of European cooperation on security.

Officials say many of the European Union’s 28 nations, including core EU members France and Germany, withhold their most strategic data despite professed willingness to share it.

At emergency talks in an EU building minutes away from where the metro bomb attack took place, they said European nations could no longer keep life-saving information to themselves.

“Sometimes there is a lack of political will, a lack of coordination and most importantly in some cases, a lack of trust,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

“These horrendous attacks cannot continue to be wake-up calls for ever.”

Belgian Justice Koen Geens, a former finance minister, drew a comparison with the European financial crisis that he said eventually increased cross-border economic cooperation.

“With regard to exchanging information and joint investigation, we really are moving very fast toward an integrated fight against terrorism,” Geens said, adding he had received offers of information from fellow ministers at Thursday’s meeting.

The European Commission has been seeking agreement for nearly five years on a draft law to give security forces across the European Union access to the data of airline passengers.

The proposal has been blocked in the European Parliament because of concerns among left-wing lawmakers over privacy.

Ministers also called for better enforcement of measures already agreed in principle, including effective border controls, identity checks, steps to prevent the use of forged documents and the sale of chemicals that can be used in bomb-making.

“Terrorism is fast but Europe is often slow,” Angelino Alfano, Italy’s interior minister, said of the pace of enforcement.

Europol, the EU body for combating international organized crime, said it had observed increasing links between terrorism and the criminal underworld in Europe, for example in the supply of illegal firearms and the emergence of Islamic State foreign fighters with a criminal background.

Europol director Rob Wainwright said national authorities had been better at sharing information on organized crime than terrorism.

“In recent months a significant increase has been noted in the level of information sharing on terrorism but it remains uneven across all Member States,” Wainwright said.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald