Friday

19th Aug 2022

Parliament threatens to derail EU-US bank data deal

  • European bank transfer data can no longer be accessed by US authorities (Photo: SWIFT)

The European Parliament is threatening to derail an interim agreement allowing US authorities to track European bank transactions in terrorism investigations unless certain concessions are made.

The president of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek at the end of last week sent a second letter to the Spanish EU presidency asking for more information on the so-called Swift agreement.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We have not received any answers to the first letter, sent in December to both the [outgoing] Swedish and the [incoming] Spanish EU presidencies," a spokesman for Mr Buzek said.

A plenary debate on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday in Strasbourg, during which the Spanish presidency is expected to give more answers on the technicalities of the deal.

The agreement would allow US prosecutors and investigators to tap into intra-European bank transactions as part of anti-terrorist enquiries - something EU lawmakers say raises privacy concerns.

The parliament can still scrap the agreement, even after it comes into force on 1 February, pending the lawmakers' "consent." A final deal should be negotiated by the end of the year, together with the EU parliament.

"In order for Parliament to be in a position to give its consent or not, it had laid down two clear conditions, namely that Parliament is granted full access to information related to this interim agreement and that its concerns are fully reflected in the negotiating mandate for the longer term agreement required once the interim agreement expires at the end of October," a press release by the Liberal group in the EU legislature reads.

The Liberals have spearheaded the issue, with their leader, Guy Verhofstadt, indicating that he has the support of other groups to "reject the agreement altogether" if the Spanish EU presidency does not come forward with some concession.

The interim deal was sealed by EU justice ministers on 30 November last year, just one day before the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty - rules granting the EU legislature more powers in the field of justice and home affairs.

At the time lawmakers criticised the "rush" to sign the deal, while the US pointed to the fact that the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) was about to stop storing data on European transactions on US soil by the end of 2009.

If parliament took the controversial step of refusing to give its consent, the US would no longer have access to intra-EU transactions - something that would strain relations between Brussels and Washington, especially in the wake of the Christmas Day bomb plot in Detroit.

Swift in 2006 was thrust into the centre of an EU-US dispute after it emerged that the American authorities had been secretly using information on European transactions as part of their so-called War on Terror.

A Belgium-based company, Swift, kept a database on US territory, giving Washington a legal handle on its global activities.

The company records international transactions worth trillions of dollars daily, between nearly 8,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries.

"From 1 January, we have changed the architecture of the Swift network, keeping intra-European traffic in Europe – one database in the Netherlands and a mirror database in Switzerland," Euan Sellar, a spokesman for the company told EUobserver.

He said Swift is "currently waiting" to hear the legal details of the agreement, noting that the US authorities had no mandate to ask for European transactions. "We'll have to see once the deal comes into force, if it's legally binding, we will comply," he said.

Meanwhile, US officials, asking not to be named, told this website that the EU parliament had been regularly informed of the importance of having such data made available to anti-terrorist investigators.

"We prefer to use the 'Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme' label instead of Swift, because there are several other companies involved as well," one US official said.

As to the final agreement, Washington is hoping the EU parliament will "move swiftly" so that the deal is in force by the end of October when the interim agreement expires.

Clinton calls parliament chief over bank data deal

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has called EU parliament chief Jerzy Buzek to voice concern over a vote due next Thursday in which MEPs could scrap a deal allowing American investigators to track down terrorist funding via European bank transactions.

Slovakia's government stares into the abyss

When a pro-western coalition swept to power in Slovak elections in 2020, many saw it as the start of a new era. Yet fast forward two-and-a-half years, and the four-party coalition is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Draghi's grip on power finally unravels

Italy looked set to lose its highly-respected prime minister Mario Draghi on Thursday, after his attempt to relaunch his grand coalition government ended with right-wing parties joining the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in deserting him.

Italy back in chaos, as Draghi quits over 5-Star snub

Italy was plunged into fresh political turmoil on Thursday as prime minister Mario Draghi announced his resignation after a key ally within his grand coalition government boycotted a parliamentary vote.

Column

Albania's post-communist dream has lessons for Ukraine

Comparisons between post-communist Albania and current-day Ukraine are fascinating — and make many pertinent parallels. Ukrainians have a similar determination to belong to "the rest of Europe" as Albanians.

Opinion

Finally, the victims of Utøya got a memorial

A legal battle between locals on the one hand and the state and the labour youth organisation on the other side postponed the inception of the memorial in remembrance of the victims of Anders Behring Breivik.

News in Brief

  1. China joins Russian military exercises in Vostok
  2. Ukraine nuclear plant damage would be 'suicide', says UN chief
  3. Denmark to invest €5.5bn in new warships
  4. German economy stagnates, finance ministry says
  5. Syria received stolen grain, says Ukraine envoy
  6. Truss still leads in next UK PM polling
  7. UN chief meets Zelensky and Erdogan over grain exports
  8. Fighting stalls ahead of UN visit, Ukraine says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Latest News

  1. European inflation hits 25-year high, driven by energy spike
  2. No breakthrough in EU-hosted Kosovo/Serbia talks
  3. Letter to the Editor: Rosatom responds on Zaporizhzhia
  4. Could the central Asian 'stan' states turn away from Moscow?
  5. Serbia expects difficult talks with Kosovo at EU meeting
  6. How scary is threat to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant?
  7. Slovakia's government stares into the abyss
  8. Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us