Five years ago the EU set out ambitious proposals for building an area of justice, freedom and security. Almost three years ago, 9/11 gave new impetus to this process. This month the European Commission claimed great progress had been made. But a French court has punched a hole in one of the key principles the EU has developed.

Judges in Pau declined a Spanish request to hand over three ETA suspects - despite the entry into force only weeks previously of the European arrest warrant, created in the wake of 9/11 to speed up terrorist extradition cases.

The European Commissioner responsible for justice and home affairs brushed this off as a local set-back with no implications for the validity of the arrest warrant. But it was the same Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, who also delivered a largely glowing report just days before on the EU achievements in this field over the last five years.

And while the effectiveness of the arrest warrant may still be demonstrated by other cases, it is already clear that the Commission's congratulations on EU work in the justice and home affairs are open to some question.

A simple stocktaking of the real progress reveals some striking gaps, now the May 2004 deadline has passed for implementation of most of the measures foreseen by the...

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