EU names new low-profile counter-terror chief

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BRUSSELS, Sep 19 (Reuters) The European Union today named Belgian technocrat Gilles de Kerchove its new counter-terrorism coordinator in a move to make the politically sensitive role less high profile.

The post was created with fanfare as an urgent response to the Madrid train bombings of March 2004, when radical Islamists killed 191 people.

Its first holder, Dutch liberal politician Gijs de Vries, stepped down in March citing personal reasons. Diplomats said his powers had proved limited given resistance from some national security chiefs who resented him crossing their turf.

''I am convinced that Mr de Kerchove will bring added value to the work of the (European) Council in this key area for the EU and its citizens,'' EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement.

De Kerchove, 50, is a lawyer who was a senior aide in the Belgian federal government before working on justice and security issues for the European Union.

De Vries, while never a household name, was widely regarded as a political operator, and part of his job was to lobby for greater cooperation between national governments and Brussels in fighting terrorism.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said yesterday EU interior ministers agreed the next anti-terrorism coordinator should have ''a largely technical profile and role''.

''He will be particularly concerned with coordination and with bundling and pooling forces between member states and the various other authorities, ensuring smooth cooperation between all the European institutions,'' Pereira said.

National capitals of the 27-member EU are notoriously cautious about collaboration on justice and crime issues despite acknowledging that more cross-border cooperation is needed to tackle everything from terrorism to human trafficking.

Some advances, such as an EU-wide arrest warrant, have been made in recent years, but cooperation among national police forces is still patchy. The need for unanimity in EU votes in the area has meant many proposals for EU-wide projects have been vetoed.

REUTERS SG HS1833

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