"There is no conspiracy, nobody's out to humiliate anyone in here" said European Commission representative and Director General for Justice and Home Affairs, Jonathan Faull, reiterating that the agreement to be voted in two weeks is "a provisional matter" and that Parliament should avoid creating "a security gap" by rejecting it. He reminded MEPs that a review of counter-terrorism legislation and information-sharing mechanisms would be conducted by the European Commission.
Mr Faull also announced that former counter-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who has been appointed as "eminent person" representing the EU in the USA on this dossier, is to publish a new evaluation report on 4 February.
Security gap or data protection gap?
EP rapporteur Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (ALDE, NL) said that "there are some safeguards, but legal protection is lacking and we have a problem there". She also said that she would "not accept" the "security gap" argument, as other legal tools can be used for sharing financial information via police co-operation.
"We're not at all happy with the way this has been done", said Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT), warning that "time is running out" before the interim agreement enters into force. "We want to work with the US" to counter terrorism, said Manfred Weber (EPP, DE), but he disputed the Commission's "security gap" argument, pointing out that no current agreement had been in force since 1 January. He also asked how Parliament's vote on the interim agreement could help in negotiating a better definitive one. "There is always a judicial way to ask for financial information. So there will be no security gap", maintained Rui Tavares (GUE/NGL, PT).
"The terrorism finance tracking programme is useful, and in some cases necessary for security. There shouldn't be a long period of time when data is not transmitted", replied Mr Faull, adding that if the European Parliament rejects the provisional agreement, "the US will continue to seek information in other ways and use subpoena powers. What will not apply then is the data protection provisions" of the agreement, and "there would be a data protection gap", he said.
By contrast, European data protection assistant supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said that there would not be a "data protection gap", as national data protection norms would then apply to the transfers. Moreover, "they are stronger" than those set out in the agreement, he added.
"Flabbergasted" about new report
"The timing of the publication of this report is astounding" said Stavros Lambrinidis (S&D, EL), asking who had commissioned Mr Bruguière to draft it, and when. Mr Faull replied that Mr Bruguière has "a two-year contract to provide two reports", and that the publication of the second one "comes naturally at this time".
Sophie In't Veld (ALDE, NL) said that MEPs should have access to all information on the SWIFT agreement, including the opinion of the Council legal service. She said she was "flabbergasted" by the Council and Commission's announcement that a new report would be published the following week. "We have been discussing Swift since last July and never been told that this report was being drafted", she noted.
In the Chair : Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)