Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Biden sweet-talks MEPs on anti-terrorism deal

  • Joe Biden reassures MEPs of his administration's commitment to civil liberties (Photo: Valentina Pop)

In a highly-anticipated speech to the European Parliament on Thursday (6 May), US vice-president Joe Biden went to great lengths to reassure MEPs of Washington's commitment to civil liberties and privacy rights, wooing their support for a new anti-terrorist bank data deal after they rejected an earlier one in February.

Recognising the "new powers granted to this parliament by the Lisbon Treaty," Mr Biden was the first top US official in 25 years to formally address the plenary session of the EU legislature since then-president Ronald Reagan spoke to MEPs in 1985.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He spared no compliments on the history of EU institutions, with the bloc set to mark on Sunday the 60th anniversary of the Schuman declaration, the key document which laid the foundation of what was later to become the European Union.

Brussels has a "legitimate claim" to the title of "capital of the free world," normally a title reserved for Washington, Mr Biden said. It is a "great city which boasts 1,000 years of history and serves as capital of Belgium, the home of the European Union and the headquarters of Nato."

Time and again he reassured MEPs of America's strong desire to have Europe as a "strong partner," even if they sometimes disagree.

The main source of current friction with the EU legislature is the "Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme" (TFTP), sometimes called the Swift agreement due to the name of the main company facilitating international bank transactions, which the US authorities screen when looking for terrorist leads.

Back in February, the European Parliament struck down an interim agreement allowing US investigators to inspect European data, dealing a blow to Washington's last-minute lobbying efforts. The No-vote was an expression of the new powers acquired by the EU legislature in the field of justice and home affairs, and was also justified by concerns on privacy and civil liberties.

A new agreement is currently being negotiated by the European Commission and the US administration, both hoping a deal could be sealed before summer recess. The parliament will then have to give its consent or to strike it down again.

Mr Biden spoke of his official and personal "profound commitment to civil liberties and privacy," saying that he had championed the cause for 37 years.

But he also stressed the need for governments to respect the "physical safety of their citizens" and to fight terrorism with "every legitimate tool available" that is "consistent with our values."

"We believe that the TFTP is essential to our security as well as yours, it has provided critical leads to counter-terrorist investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, disrupting plots and saving lives," he said.

"But I don't blame you for questioning it. We understand your concerns. As a consequence, we are working together to address them. It's important that we do so as quickly as possible. The longer we are without an agreement on the Terrorist Financing Tracking Programme, the greater the risk of a terrorist attack that could have been prevented."

MEPs listening to the speech said the Biden assurances were important as they showed the European Parliament was now on Washington's radar.

"The main message was that the Obama-Biden administration is listening to allies. You can't speak about partnership if one of the sides dictates to the other," Dutch Liberal MEP Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the rapporteur for the TFTP agreement, told this website.

She and other colleagues dealing with civil liberties and data protection issues returned from a visit to Washington last week and said the Obama administration was now committed to giving the European side "a more equal footing" in the negotiations.

"The No-vote was a wake-up call for the Obama administration, they suddenly realised we can block things. They've since shown willingness to co-operate," Ms Plasschaert said.

Green MEP Jan Albrecht, also part of the recent Washington delegation, noted that the Biden speech was "a good step forward," as it recognised the importance of the EU legislature, but that this still didn't mean the Swift agreement is a done deal.

Issues such as bulk data transfers, the definition of terrorism and the legal basis for the data being transferred to other countries could still trigger a second No-vote if not tackled in the agreement, he warned.

EU data verdict imminent on Romania's €20m reporters' fine

National data protection authorities from around the EU are about to make public their decision on a threat by Romania's data chief to force journalists to reveal their sources, in a case involving high-level political corruption.

Germany led way on EU rights protection

Germany led the way on protection of human rights this year, but Hungary, Italy, and Poland "undermined the EU's moral standing" on the world stage, a leading NGO said.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us