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25th May 2019

MEPs call for delay on US bank data deal

  • The US screens certain data held by Swift as part of its fight against terrorism (Photo: SWIFT)

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek is planning to send a letter to the Council of Ministers, the EU institution representing member states, calling for a suspension of a recent agreement that was to enable the continued transfer of EU citizens' banking data to US investigators.

The decision to call for a delay to the interim deal, scheduled to enter into force on 1 February, was made by leaders of the parliament's different political groups during a meeting in Strasbourg on Thursday (21 January).

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MEPs were infuriated when the Council agreed the interim deal with the US on 30 November last year, just a day before the EU's new rulebook, the Lisbon Treaty, came into force, which handed the euro-deputies a greater say over data protection issues.

The controversial deal was negotiated to help the US out of a legal hole, following the relocation of the US database of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) to the Netherlands on 1 January.

"The EU Council has no right to allow the Swift agreement to take effect without the agreement of the European Parliament," said Green co-president Rebecca Harms and Green MEP Jan-Philipp Albrecht, a member of Parliament's civil liberties committee, in a statement.

"Parliament must not be bypassed by the [European] Commission and Council, which would be a breach of the Lisbon Treaty. Citizens' rights must be safeguarded," they added.

Ongoing controversy

The Swift issue has been an ongoing controversy for several years, with news that the US Department of the Treasury was secretly surveilling banking transactions data, including information on EU citizens, first hitting the headlines in 2006.

Names, addresses and national identification numbers are among the sensitive data screened under the procedure designed to fight terrorism. However, the agreement makes no provision for European investigators to access similar data on US transactions.

In a bid to end the debate, the EU in 2008 appointed a special expert to assess how American authorities were dealing with the data.

French judge, Louis Bruguiere, subsequently concluded that the US was not abusing the information and that the programme had "significant security benefits for the EU" itself.

But in a strongly worded letter last week to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, whose country currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, Mr Buzek already urged the Socialist politician to allow the parliament to vote on the sensitive text.

He added that it would be "unwise" for the Council to force through such an "inherently controversial" agreement without first securing the parliament's assent.

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