France’s straight-talking Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy struck another blow for Anglo-French relations on Wednesday when he appeared to contradict his British counterpart Charles Clarke in Brussels.
The two men were taking part in an emergency meeting of EU interior and justiceministers in the wake of the London bombings. Sarkozy alleged British police had briefly arrested and then released some of the terrorist team last year. This was news to Clarke, who denied discussing the subject with Sarkozy, and who said the French minister was “mistaken”. The French later clarified Sarkozy’s statement, saying he had referred to arrests made of people unconnected with Thursday’s outrage. The meeting did agree to accelerate moves to introduce new anti-terror measures, including an October target for the controversial data logging plan that has raised many civil liberties and costs fears. Italy’s Giuseppe Pisanu warned more information did not necessarily mean more arrests; “If we adopt a multilateral approach we face more complicated relations with too many people involved”, he said, but Belgium’s Laurette Onkelynx sounded more convinced that it was time to change methods; “We have to go beyond economic questions, it’s a matter of life and death. Belgium agrees that a directive on data should be put in place” However the Netherland’s Johan Remkes says gathering more data may not be the answer, as terrorists might be able to find ways of avoiding detection. The system would cost money, and there was no point in spending it if it didn’t work, he said. Memories are fresh that the US had plenty of information on the 9-11 terrorists, but failed to act on it. That was the real problem say critics, worried that data storage by internet and phone operators damages personalfreedoms.