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[Excerpt from OPC newsletter 2001-12-10:]

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Who EU Calling a Terrorist?

European lawyers have denounced a European Union proposal to establish a definition of terrorism so broad that it could include workers' strikes or protests against globalization.

More than 200 lawyers from nearly every country in the European Union (EU) have signed an appeal urging European Parliament and EU governments to reject a broad definition of terrorism.

"This anti-terrorist legislation once imposed will become a real war machine against fundamental democratic rights," the appeal warned, "and against those who come up against a political and social system with its basis in economics, a system increasingly global and unjust."

Supporters held a press conference on the issue in Brussels on Monday in an effort to raise awareness of the issue.

The European legislation in question is a proposal on combating terrorism that the EU Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs is scheduled to discuss later this week.

The proposal defines terrorism as, "offenses intentionally committed by an individual or a group against one or more countries, their institutions or people, with the aim of intimidating them and seriously altering or destroying the political, economic, or social structures of a country."

If endorsed, EU member states will be obligated to incorporate the definition into their own laws. Six member countries already have special anti-terror laws, and critics fear the EU proposal could dramatically expand their application under the proposed definition.

Jan Fermon, a lawyer from Brussels who helped draft the appeal, is concerned that the EU is using the Sept. 11 attack as an excuse to pass proposals designed to quash political dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

"Most of these proposals have no relation to terrorism," Fermon said, "but the EU is now using 9-11 to get them passed without criticism.

"The main concern is that the definition is so broad that it includes all kinds of lawful protest. Trade union activity, anti-globalization protest, all of it can be criminalized under the legislation."

As a matter that relates to domestic security, the proposal -- called a "framework decision" -- does not require approval from the European Parliament.

The concern in Europe mirrors developments in the U.S., where civil liberties groups are worried about an expansion in the definition of terrorism, an increase in surveillance power for law enforcement, and the prospect of military trials for accused terrorists.

While the debates on terror and civil liberties in Europe have been similar to those in the U.S., the situation is not exactly parallel, according to Sarah Andrews, a researcher at the Electronic Privacy and Information Center in Washington D.C.

"In some respects, they're going further than the U.S.," Andrews said. "The data retention proposals, and things like keeping data on those suspected of public disturbance" have not been proposed in the United States, she said.

Regarding keeping data on public rabble rousers, Andrews was referring to a report released Monday by the London-based civil rights group Statewatch.

It warned the EU might expand its Schengen Information System (SIS) -- an existing system for sharing law enforcement information among EU states -- to include "suspected protesters."

"Targeted suspects would be tagged with an "alert" on the SIS and barred from entry (to) the country where the protest or event was taking place," the report warned. The matter is being discussed by the EU but has not yet been approved, according to Statewatch.

Following violence this summer at anti-globalization protests in Genoa, Italy, and Goteborg, Sweden, the European Union began considering proposals to give police additional power to stop the protests. Since Sept. 11, those efforts appear to have merged with a push to combat terrorism.

Fermon doesn't believe EU governments intend to use terror laws against domestic protesters. But he fears unintended consequences once laws are on the books. As an example, he cites the decision earlier this year to prosecute protesters at Goteborg under anti-mafia laws.

"We fear that once you get into this kind of logic, you inevitably end up having all kinds of special rules incompatible with fair trial," he said.

Fermon believes existing laws are adequate to prosecute terror.

In addition to the proposal to establish a broad definition of terrorism, civil libertarians in Europe are also concerned about another proposal to create an EU-wide arrest warrant. If approved, it would eliminate the need for extradition procedures when transferring suspects from one member country to another.

COMMENT: This is yet more proof that governments will take advantage of any crisis to unfairly expand their powers at the expense of the citizens. The EU (like any overarching government bureaucracy) is no friend of freedom and liberty and is in fact every bit as bad as the US and UK governments at attempting to repress its subjects.

Terrorism is not nearly the threat that governments like to pretend. After all, the number of citizens killed in government-sponsored wars vastly outstrips the number killed by terrorists. For that matter, how many citizens die on government regulated roads (and from government tax-endorsed tobacco use) every year? A lot more than terrorists have ever managed to dispatch, that's for certain!

Hopefully, the EU will prove to be too fractious and divided to survive for very long as a monolithic entity. We definitely don't want future wars in Europe, but the spirit of free competition amongst European nations is vastly preferable to an EU dictatorship that outlaws criticism, crushes dissent, and otherwise oversees a reign of misery and subjugation of its citizens.

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