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23rd Jan 2021

MEPs flex legal muscles over police reforms ahead of new treaty

  • MEPs rejected reform proposals for the EU police co-operation agency. (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament on Tuesday (24 November) rejected reform proposals for the bloc's police and anti-terrorism agency, Europol, in an attempt to delay the decision until after the new EU treaty comes into force, granting the legislature more powers.

The proposals covered changes to the confidentiality of Europol information, exchange of personal data with partners such as Interpol, agreements with non-EU countries and assistance with criminal investigations.

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MEPs argued that the rules should not be altered until the EU legislature gets equal footing with member states in the field of justice and home affairs next Tuesday (1 December), when the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

The Europol reform could still pass, regardless of the MEPs' protests, when justice and home affairs minister meet in Brussels next Monday (30 November).

"The rush of the Council is embarrassing," said Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld.

Over 600 of her colleagues, out of the 736-strong parliament, voted against the reform package and asked the Council to table a new one in the coming six months. The four motions had a purely "consultative" force and were not legally-binding, however.

A similar initiative by the Green group to thwart the adoption of a new EU-US bank data transfer deal on 30 November also fell through, with a debate on the matter failing to make the Strasbourg plenary agenda.

The so-called Swift banking agreement is likely to be adopted by ministers on Monday.

The prospect of having to start negotiations from scratch, once MEPs have an equal say on the matter, is enough of an incentive for ministers to adopt it on 30 November, one EU diplomat said.

According to the provisional agenda of next week's ministerial meeting, ministers are due to "authorise the signing of an agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data for purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme."

The deal will allow American authorities to access information from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), an inter-bank data processing centre, as well as other, similar companies in Europe.

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 some databases on US territory, giving Washington a legal handle on its global activities. Its plans to shift European data to a new Swiss-based centre prompted the need for the new EU-US deal.

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

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