Aviation security is a growing worry in Europe since two parcel bombs mailed from Yemen were found on airplanes headed for the United States, prompting a review of current rules.
The EU's executive Commission will unveil a legislative proposal in the coming months that will include a plan on how to screen cargo from third countries, based on security standards of individual airports.
"The times are dramatic. We should not panic but we should assess what we have," EU home affairs chief Cecilia Malmström told reporters after discussing the plans with ministers of transport and home affairs from the bloc's member states.
Under the proposed new rules – likely to take months to get through the EU decision-making process – EU security officials would be able to decide whether goods arriving in the bloc via air needed to be screened. They would also decide whether security measures at their port of origin were sufficient.
Germany had pressed for the EU to set up a "blacklist" of airports with poor security standards but some EU officials said such lists would be counterproductive because they would point potential perpetrators to airports to avoid.
"It would not be effective," one EU official said.
The EU already has blacklists for airlines, for example all Afghan carriers, which are banned from flying into European airspace because of their country's failure to set up a proper safety regime.
EU security experts will be sent shortly to evaluate cargo security measures in Yemen, where a resurgent wing of al Qaeda militancy has threatened more attacks on Western targets.
The bloc's coordinator for counter-terrorism said on Thursday the EU was spending too little money to help governments in places like Yemen, where militant groups are known to operate.
The new air cargo security plan will also include more efforts to research screening technologies and train security officials as well more frequent inspections in the bloc to check whether rules are being implemented.
Measures at EU level will include "upgrading detection methods and cargo security controls, establishing common criteria for assessing risks posed by cargo from non-EU countries, reviewing procedures for the designation of 'trusted' consignors and carriers, and improving security training for operators and inspectors," EU transport ministers said in a statement.
(EurActiv with Reuters.)