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19th Jul 2019

French minister lobbies MEPs on EU passenger bill

Euro-deputies in the civil liberties committee are resisting external pressure to sign off on an EU-wide bill to fight terrorism, but cracks appear to be emerging.

The EU’s passenger name record bill has been stuck in the European Parliament since 2013 after MEPs in the committee voted it down. The bill requires airlines to hand over to the police the personal details of anyone flying into the EU.

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Civil liberty defenders question the mass surveillance aspect that underpins the bill, noting that the European Court of Justice last year ruled against data retention.

But pressure to get it signed has intensified since the attack in Paris against Charlie Hebdo, with France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve now lobbying individual MEPs.

On Wednesday (4 February), he arrived at the European Parliament in Brussels where he spoke to lead MEPs from the committee on reaching a compromise.

He told reporters following the discussion that an EU-wide PNR is an essential tool, among many others, needed to fight terrorism.

“PNR allows to anticipate the return [of foreign fighters], to establish the duration of their travel paths, and helps point out accomplices,” he said.

French MEPs from the committee had already met him in Paris on Tuesday, where he told them to sign the bill immediately.

“ [The] discussion brought nothing new but to state that the French government wants to push through the text,” said French Green Eva Joly, who attended the meeting in the French capital.

She noted that centre-right MEPs, with the exception of Rachida Dati, had sided with Cazeneuve.

But others are saying the pressure since the Paris attack is now causing rifts to emerge within the liberal rank and file.

“What we see is the social democratic group sticking to their principles [and] a liberal group really being torn apart,” said Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini.

Sargentini said Belgian liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt and Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in’t Veld are split on the issue.

“I think we see a leadership crisis here,” she said.

In’t Veld, for her part, dismissed Sargentini’s comments.

“Maybe the early morning hour was confusing, but there is no split in the liberal group,” said In’t Veld in an email.

Need to share data, not create more

The Greens, for their part, say resources should be invested in day-to-day co-operation between police instead of the EU PNR.

“That is our proposal,” said German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht.

Critics say member states often refuse to share intelligence and few bother working with or informing the EU’s police agency Europol and the EU's judicial co-operation body, Eurojust.

“They are the ones bringing together the local investigators and the border guards ... they can work on a common case," noted Albrecht.

The problem was highlighted when a leaked EU document last January suggested Europol receives 80 percent of all its data on from only four member states.

"The situation that so far four member states contribute 80% of the data is not yet sufficient," noted the document, drafted by the EU's counter-terrorism co-ordinator.

A spokesperson at Europol refused to deny or confirm the figure but noted that the agency's director, Rob Wainwright, “has said that more has to be done when it comes to the exchange of information with and through Europol.”

EP anti-terrorism resolution

The centre-right EPP proposed a vote on an anti-terrorism resolution at the next mini-plenary in Strasbourg before the EU summit on 12 February.

Each group is submitting their own draft this week with the hope of reaching a common non-binding resolution by next Monday evening.

Draft resolutions from the Greens and the Socialists, seen by this website, both align on the need for the European commission to come forward with a new proposal in light of the judgment by the European Court of Justice on data retention.

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