EP Civil Liberties Committee to vote on EU-US SWIFT Agreement
On Thursday, 4 February (2pm-5.30pm, Irish time), MEPs in the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee are due to discuss and vote on the controversial EU-US SWIFT Agreement.
Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the European Parliament must give its consent to (or reject) international agreements signed by the EU.
The agreement is about transferring personal bank data between the EU and the US via the SWIFT network, in the context of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme.
On Monday, 1 February, the interim agreement, which was signed by EU Member States on 30 November 2009, entered into force on a provisional basis. Although signed, the agreement was not concluded by 1 December 2009, the date on which the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. For that reason, the interim agreement now falls under the Lisbon Treaty rules for the conclusion of international agreements by the EU in the areas of judicial and police cooperation. The conclusion of the agreement now requires the consent of the European Parliament.
MEPs asked for access to all documentation relating to the agreement, in order to give it due consideration, prior to giving their consent. The text of the agreement was received by the European Parliament on Monday, 25 January 2010, only one week before the entry into force of the agreement on a provisional basis. The EP's Civil Liberties Committee is due to discuss and vote on the agreement during its meeting tomorrow, 4 February (2pm-5.30pm, Irish time). The European Parliament's final vote on the agreement, based on the draft opinion of the Civil Liberties Committee, is scheduled to take place during next week's Plenary Session in Strasbourg (debate on Tuesday, vote on Wednesday).
Mr Jonathan Faull of the European Commission said that MEPs should avoid creating a 'security gap' by delaying their consent for this 'interim' agreement. However, Mr Giovanni Buttarelli, Assistant European Data Protection Supervisor, said that there would be no 'data protection gap', as national data protection norms would then apply, some of which are 'stronger' than those set out in the interim agreement.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstat, leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament (of which Marian Harkin and the Fianna Fáil MEPs are members), said that the European Parliament 'has been kept in the dark on this matter for too long now. We should say 'no' to the interim agreement and ask the Council to immediately mandate the Commission to begin negotiations on a long term agreement that is based on a solid legal foundation with all relevant data protection safeguards. At the same time we should start negotiations for a broader transatlantic binding international agreement on data protection in the field of justice and home affairs.' He pointed out that 'the targeted exchange and use of specific data for counter terrorism purposes will remain an essential plank in the fight against terrorism but this does not need to involve the endless erosion of civil liberties for whole swathes of innocent civilians.'
German MEP Martin Schulz, leader of the S&D Group in the European Parliament (of which the Irish Labour Party MEPs are members), said that 'the SWIFT agreement provides for quite serious infringements of private rights.' He added that 'citizens must be protected from the arbitrary nature of state intervention.'
Mr Faull reminded MEPs that a review of counter-terrorism legislation and information-sharing mechanisms would be conducted by the European Commission and that former counter-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière would publish a new evaluation report on the issue on 4 February. During the EP's Plenary Session in January, Diego López Garrido, the representative of the Spanish Presidency of the EU, pointed out that the Lisbon Treaty will also allow for the 'full participation of the European Parliament' in the drafting of the long-term agreement on this matter.
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