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Brussels - EU member states agreed on Tuesday to speed up efforts aimed at restricting financial channels funding terrorist activities, in the wake of last month's attacks in Paris, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said.
The relative ease of moving money across European borders and the spread of non-banking tools such as prepaid cash cards and internet currencies make it harder for national authorities to track financial trails and restrict funding for suspicious activities.
"This is the priority of priorities today, because each of our countries is under the threat of a terrorist act," Sapin said ahead of the talks with his 27 counterparts in Brussels.
Paris has proposed measures to improve cross-border co-operation between financial investigators; expand EU-wide terrorist asset freezes; monitor payment methods such as prepaid cards and virtual currencies; clamp down on the illicit trade in cultural goods; and access data on suspicious SWIFT wire transfer activities in Europe.
The bloc pledged to take action on terrorist financing earlier this year, after a first set of attacks on Paris in January. Some measures were adopted following those attacks, but Sapin urged member states to speed up their implementation.
"The terrorists, they are here. It is therefore necessary to act faster, more rapidly, and in a stronger manner than had been foreseen until now," he said.
The finance ministers agreed to speed up action, both on previously agreed measures and regarding additional steps as proposed by France, Sapin said after the talks.
He said the European Commission would get to work immediately on new proposals, and said there were efforts under way to table the issue for the next meeting of EU finance ministers, in January.
France was satisfied with the response, Sapin said, noting that there was a "true willingness ... to act, to act fast and to act firmly to avoid overly easy financing of terrorism anywhere on the European Union's territory".
The efforts are part of an overall clampdown on terrorist activities in the bloc.
Other key proposals include curbing the availability of firearms; cracking down on foreign fighters - Europeans who fight in Syria or Iraq and return radicalised; and tackling the internet as a forum for recruitment, radicalisation and the planning of terrorist activities.
The increased threat level has also prompted calls for greater safeguards against web-based terrorism.
EU governments and lawmakers reached a preliminary deal late on Monday to protect key services in sectors such as energy, transport, banking and healthcare against cyber attacks.
Online marketplaces like eBay or Amazon, search engines such as Google and cloud services will also be required to ensure that their infrastructure is secure.
"The agreement constitutes a major step in improving the resilience of our network and information systems in Europe," said EU Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
"Member states will have to co-operate more on cyber security - which is even more important in light of the current security situation in Europe," added EU lawmaker Andreas Schwab, who was negotiating on behalf of the European Parliament.
The deal still requires the formal approval of the EU legislature and member states, but this is expected to be a formality.