Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Sighs of relief as EU parliament approves 'Swift' deal

  • US vice president Joe Biden spoke of the importance of Swift on a visit to Brussels in May (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Top EU and US officials have breathed a collective sigh of relief after the European Parliament approved a new "Swift" deal on terrorism and bank data, closing a six-month "security gap" after it struck down an initial agreement in February.

After squeezing in last-minute concessions from the US side last week, MEPs, as expected, endorsed the new agreement by a large majority in Strasbourg on Thursday (8 July), with 484 votes in favour, 109 against and 12 abstentions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Under the new deal, which comes into force on 1 August, the EU will appoint an independent person to oversee the way personal data on bank transactions from the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) is searched by US authorities when looking for terrorist funding.

US President Barack Obama personally welcomed the vote in a press statement, signaling relief that the "Terrorist Finance Tracking Program" could resume its operations based on Swift data after a months-long security gap.

"The threat of terrorism faced by the United States and the European Union continues and, with this agreement, all of our citizens will be safer," Mr Obama said, noting that the TFTP program has so far channeled over 1,550 investigative leads to EU member states.

"This new, legally binding agreement reflects significant additional data privacy safeguards but still retains the effectiveness and integrity of this indispensable counterterrorism program ...We are determined to protect citizens of all nations while also upholding fundamental rights."

European Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek said the vote "hopefully brings the Swift affair to an end.

He pointed to the "institutional lessons" learned from the rejection of the initial deal, which was signed off by member states just one day before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, granting the parliament a veto over the issue, in what looked like an attempt to keep MEPs' noses out.

"To avoid mishaps in the future, the council [of EU ministers] and commission must treat the European Parliament as an equal player at all stages of negotiations, keeping it fully informed and taking its views seriously into account," Mr Buzek said.

The parliament's veto in February had strained EU-US relations in an unpleasant surprise to the Obama administration. EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday said he was "very delighted" that MEPs backed the new deal, which "helps reinforce the transatlantic relationship."

In reaction to the vote, Swift CEO Lazaro Campos said that "protection of our customer data" remains his company's top priority.

"Swift will continue to maintain its own long-standing state-of-the-art protections. They include limiting the scope of data requests to anti-terrorism purposes only, segregating data to a secure environment and auditing every justification for data searches."

The company has had its own representative present in the data-extracting room since the beginning of the program. He will now be seconded by an independent EU-appointed person, on whose nomination the EU parliament wants to be consulted.

European system

The new agreement also foresees the possibility of creating an EU-level "Terrorism Finance Tracking Program" similar to the one set up in the US in the aftermath of 9/11.

The EU commission will come up with a technical assessment of an EU system in the second half of 2011.

Initially a covert operation tapping into a secret Swift database located on US soil, the program was disclosed in 2006 on the front page of the New York Times. Following the trans-Atlantic scandal, Swift decided to reconfigure its database structure so that it would no longer keep European data on US soil.

The change became operational on 1 January, prompting the US, in a bid to keep data flow uninterrupted, to negotiate the initial deal struck down by the parliament.

Another novelty of the final deal is that it grants a supervisory role to EU's police agency, Europol. The Hague-based agency can block data transfers if the requests are not in compliance with the agreement. It cannot, however, look at the specific cases, only at broad categories of data requested.

The agreement prohibits the US from engaging in "data mining" or any other type of speculative algorithmic or automated profiling or computer filtering. Any searches of Swift data will have to be based on existing information showing that the object of the search relates to terrorism or terrorism finance. 

MEPs demand explanation on US plan to monitor all money transfers

The EU commission and MEPs have requested clarifications from Washington on reported plans to expand an anti-terrorism programme targeting financial transactions - a move that would render void the long-debated "Swift agreement" enacted in August.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Socialists opposed parliament taking Qatar rights stand

The socialists in the European Parliament are leading compromise talks on human rights in Qatar despite voting against putting the issue to a plenary vote. The move comes after the Left demanded that the European Parliament take a stand.

No top EU officials going to Qatar World Cup

None of the four top EU officials are going to the Qatar World Cup amid a stink on human rights, but some are more brave than others in criticising the gas-rich emirate.

Moldova hit by spillover of Russia's war

Last week, the EU pledged €250m to help Moldova tackle the energy crisis consisting of €100m in loans, another €100m in grants, and €50m directed to help the most vulnerable citizens.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us