15th Aug 2020

US flight security demands ruffle EU feathers

  • "Divide et impera," one diplomat said, when asked about the newly-tabled security measures (Photo: Wikipedia)

The United States is confronting the 27-nation EU bloc with a new set of security requirements, including armed sky marshals on transatlantic flights, as part of its ongoing war on terror.

According to UK daily, the Guardian, Washington has tabled for signature a ten-page memorandum of understanding, consisting of seven demands aimed at keeping better track of who wants to enter US territory.

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Diplomats from two different member states have confirmed to EUobserver that a document was distributed to all EU capitals and is being discussed bilaterally.

"Divide et impera," one diplomat called the newly-tabled security measures - Latin for "divide and conquer".

In practice, Washington wants in-flight security officers, known as sky marshals, aboard all transatlantic flights by US airlines, as well as a system requiring travellers to obtain electronic authorisation to travel before they leave for the US.

In addition, the US is asking for a range of additional data, including information on air passengers flying over its territory, on non-travellers allowed beyond departure barriers to help elderly, young or ill passengers to board aircraft, and on lost and stolen passports.

The measures are linked to the 2007 revisions of the US Patriot Act, a law dealing with the authority of US law enforcement agencies in the fight against terrorism in the United States and abroad.

Currently, US security authorities already collect 19 pieces of data on European air passengers, under the so-called passenger name records (PNR) deal between the United States and the European Union as a whole.

According to several diplomats, the European Commission dislikes the fact that additional requirements are being dealt with bilaterally and has already urged EU governments not to sign up to them.

"We are going to clarify what the US has or is going to put forward as an additional request," a commission spokesperson said on Monday (11 February).

The Czech Republic is likely to be among the first to sign a bilateral agreement with Washington, as the country perceives the move as "the only way" to increase its chances to gain visa-free access to the US.

"The United States is extending the visa-waiver programme country by country", Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra told EUobserver, adding that Prague is negotiating with the clear perspective of reaching a deal.

When asked about the proposed security measures, Mr Vondra said they should not cause panic, as some of the US requirements, such as an electronic travel authorisation system, has already been successfully applied by Australia. But he admitted: "The details are still to be discussed."

Mr Vondra also stressed that the US-Czech talks were being held in such a way that the country does not violate any EU obligations.

Brussels attacks new US security demands

The European Commission has poured cold water on a set of security requirements recently tabled by Washington, describing the move as "unacceptable". It has also criticised EU capitals for rushing to sign up to the controversial measures in exchange for visa-free access to the US.

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