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EU finds unity after Madrid


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190 people died when bombs ripped through rush-hour trains in Madrid.
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU leaders have rediscovered a sense of unity in the wake of the Madrid bombings, agreeing to restart stalled constitution talks and boost joint action against terrorism.

At a summit in Brussels, leaders of the 25 current and future EU states Friday drew a line under the Iraq row, voting rights and budget deficits by pledging a package of economic reforms in a bid to overtake the U.S. and Japan by 2010 after four years of slow progress.

"There's a very strong sense of unity in Europe at the moment for very obvious reasons after what has happened in Madrid," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters.

The determination to move forward was reflected in security measures approved Thursday, including the appointment of a first EU counter-terrorism coordinator, and in the economic reform agenda, Blair said.

But most important was the pledge to wrap up by mid-June talks on a first constitution for the enlarged bloc, which hit the rocks over relative voting rights, with middle-sized states Spain and Poland battling against heavyweights Germany and France.

The surprise victory of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain's general election days after the attacks that killed 190 people has also helped to bring change, with Madrid's new leaders now pledging a more conciliatory line on power-sharing.

Left out in the cold after Spain's shift, Poland also signaled a willingness to compromise.

"We are open for dialogue, we are open for compromise," said Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, adding, however, that Warsaw would not capitulate.

But scenting victory, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder refused to back down, thereby preserving power perks for the EU's most populous nation and biggest economy.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who is chairing the meeting in his role as holder of the rotating EU presidency, said the leaders had committed themselves to find a solution by their next summit on June 17-18.

"We have a changed atmosphere," Ahern declared.

'Threat to security'

Earlier European Union leaders agreed to major reforms in the bloc's fight against terrorism and appointed a counter-terrorism coordinator.

Many of the leaders had traveled to Brussels for the two-day summit from the memorial service in Spain for the victims of the March 11 Madrid bombings.

Ahern said that such an affront to democracy and to the EU's values had renewed their unity of purpose.

"The threat of terrorism is a threat to our security, our democracies, and our way of life in the European Union, and we will do everything in our power to protect our people from this threat," he told delegates.

European leaders also invoked a solidarity clause that commits all EU states to assist any member hit by terrorism.

The clause had been tied up in the stalled constitution.

An 18-page declaration pledged that: "There will be neither weakness nor compromise of any kind when dealing with terrorists. No country in the world can consider itself immune."

Javier Solana, the EU's international policy chief, named Gijs de Vries, a former deputy Dutch interior minister, as the region's new counter-terrorism coordinator.

Some reports have billed him as a powerful anti-terrorism tsar, but his mandate was tightly restricted to trying to make the complex EU institutions function better, making proposals and liaising between Brussels with member states. (de Vries profile)

Countries that have failed to absorb the Europe-wide measures to counter terrorist money laundering have now pledged to do so.

The measures -- such as a pan-European arrest warrant to replace lengthy extradition proceedings -- were agreed upon after the September 11 attacks in the United States but have still not been fully implemented.

"The shortcomings and delays are unforgivable now after the attacks in Madrid," European Commission President Romano Prodi said.

The EU will also look at common registers of terrorist suspects and the keeping of records on their use of mobile phones and the Internet.


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