European nations were divided Thursday over the need to install body scanners at European airports, with some EU member states playing down the need for beefed up security measures.
The United States, Britain and the Netherlands already have announced plans to install the scanners amid growing worldwide security concerns following the attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit plane on Christmas Day.
Washington is seeking enhanced security measures on all trans-Atlantic flights heading for the United States. On an average day, the lucrative North Atlantic route is crisscrossed by more than 800 passenger flights.
But ahead of a meeting Thursday of EU aviation security experts, Belgium's secretary of state for transport Etiennne Schouppe described such enhanced measures as "excessive," saying security requirements at European airports are already "strict enough."
Until now, the EU has allowed member states to decide on whether to use body scanners at airport checkpoints. In 2008, the EU suspended work on draft legislation regulating the use of body scanners after the European Parliament demanded a more in-depth study of their impact on health and privacy.
Since the attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25, the EU has been reevaluating its security regulations.
Aviation experts from the member states now must assess whether body scanners can fit into EU legislation, officials said.
Any significant action on the issue would have to be taken by the European Commission, and approved by the parliament, officials said. The process could take several months even if all member states agreed on the need for scanners.
The debate in Europe follows the failed attempt by a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight bound from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive concealed in his underwear.
Abdulmutallab, 23, was indicted on Wednesday on charges including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which uses 40 scanners at various airports throughout the United States, already has announced plans to order dozens more.
Schouppe said the European Union should adopt a joint approach to the use of body scanners.
"We must have a common position for all European Union members states so that there is a real transparency between measures taken on the European side and the U.S. side," he said in an interview with APTV.
"I must say that I have the feeling that (the Americans) are exaggerating. I don't know what kinds of controls they were using previously, but here, in Belgium and in the large majority of European airports, security controls were strict enough," he said.
EU spokesman Fabio Pirotta said no decisions would be taken at Thursday's meeting.
"The experts will only take stock of the overall security situation," Pirotta said.
In Italy, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he expects to see scanners at least at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport and Milan's Malpensa hub.
Maroni was attending a meeting of Italy's top civil aviation officials on Thursday to discuss increased airport security.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said privacy was a "fundamental right" for passengers, but "the right not to blow up on an airplane is a more important right."
Associated Press Writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.
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