By Henrietta Billings - 7th September 2005
The EU presidency has called on Europe to reset the balance between individual human rights and the need for new anti-terror security measures.
UK interior minister Charles Clarke, chairing meetings of Europe’s justice ministers under Britain’s EU presidency, is arguing that times have changed.
Clarke is seeking redraw the boundaries between the 50-year old European Convention on Human rights and an EU security crackdown after terror attacks on London and Madrid.
“I believe that in developing… human rights it really is necessary to balance very important rights for individuals against the collective right for security against those who attack us through terrorist violence,” he told MEPs on Wednesday..
“This is a difficult balance to get right and it requires us all as politicians to ask where our citizens - who elected all of us here - would expect us to draw the line.”
“The view of my government is that this balance is not right for the circumstances which we now face - circumstances very different from those faced by the founding fathers of the European Convention on Human rights and it need to be closely examined in that context.”
Since London bombings in July this year, which left 56 people dead, Britain is spearheading an unprecedented EU crackdown on terrorism.
Clarke is also calling for intelligence sharing between national governments and greater surveillance of criminal suspects using electronic and biometric technologies.
"Of course criminals and terrorists use modern technology: the internet and mobile communications to plan and carry out their activities."
“We can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs,” he said.
“Biometrics are the most effective way to ensure that we can prove someone's identity.”
“A comprehensive database of visa applications with biometrics matched to each applicant will mean that the genuine traveller is able to easily prove their identity and travel more freely.”
Clarke's speech was met with criticism from some MEPs in Strasbourg.
Graham Watson MEP, leader of the ALDE group warned against "high noon" approaches that de-humanised the perpetrators and exacted "summary justice".
He said this approach could risk "further alienating large sections of our communities and placing the entire population under national surveillance as a result of the actions of a handful of fanatics."
Leader of the Socialists Martin Schulz said that citizens' fundamental human rights should not be infringed in the fight against terrorists.
"We have to be tough but we have to protect people's rights as well."
Schulz added that member states did "not have confidence in one another's procedures" - a major problem in the fight against terrorism.
"We have to eliminate that contradiction. Until we do, we can talk and talk but we won't have an efficient fight against crime."
Clarke is hosting a key meeting of EU justice ministers in Newcastle on Thursday.