France and Spain set up joint body to fight terrorism

by Nadege Puljak Nadege Puljak

[] France and Spain signed a deal Tuesday to set up a joint security committee to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal immigration, the two countries announced following a bilateral summit.
The deal will allow Paris and Madrid "to make a leap forward on security," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The heads of the security services of both countries will meet every six months to plan joint actions in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, a joint statement said.
The committee will seek to "prevent the Islamist threat," in particular through "an alert procedure" on the use of the Internet by terrorists and on the "development of the jihadist threat in the regions at risk."
It was also aimed at combating drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal immigration networks.

A Spanish government source said the body, led by police officials from the two countries, is an expansion of the five-year-old cooperation on security between France and Spain, which has led to the arrests of numerous members of the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 825 people in its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings to carve a Basque homeland out of parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

France is also particularly interested in the fight against drug trafficking as Spain has become the major European entry point for cocaine from South America and hashish from north Africa, the source said.

In an address to the Spanish parliament earlier, Sarkozy described the new body as "a real joint general staff headquarters on security."

Sarkozy arrived on Monday on his first ever state visit to Spain, accompanied by his wife, the model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The visit has also been a chance to highlight the common views of the two governments on a range of issues, in particular the future of the European Union, the planned Mediterranean Union and on ways to combat the global economic crisis.

Sarkozy reiterated his support for Spain’s push to have a permanent seat at the Group of 20 developed and developing nations.

And Zapatero announced that France and Spain would propose an international conference to seek a "wide response" to the problem of piracy off lawless Somalia.

"On all the issues, France and Spain speak with the same voice," Sarkozy said on Monday.

But the French leader dismissed "as petty French politicking" a recent controversy sparked when he reportedly described the Spanish leader as "not very clever" at a lunch two weeks ago with French lawmakers.

The row is "a small ripple in a mediocre political debate in France," he told Tuesday’s news conference.

On Monday, which was largely devoted to meetings with members of the Spanish royal family, it was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who grabbed the spotlight.

The Spanish press Tuesday noted a "duel of elegance" between the 41-year-old French First Lady and Princess Letizia, 36, the wife of Spanish Crown Prince Felipe.

El Pais said Bruni-Sarkozy appeared to be on a "permanent catwalk" aimed at "conquering the world with her elegance which sometimes lacks any naturalness."

But La Razon described her as "a marvel of nature who cannot be compared to anyone" and "the only interest of this visit."