October 25, 2013 By Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Madrid in 2004, and London in 2005, demonstrated that neither the US, nor Europe are immune to threats from global terrorism.
With the aim of protecting our citizens and fighting terrorism, the EU and the US signed the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), an agreement requiring the EU authorities to transfer some data to the U.S treasury from the Brussels-based system Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).
SWIFT holds the data of some 8,000 banks and operates in 200 countries; given the large amount of personal data stored in SWIFT, we Parliamentarians, never felt too comfortable with the agreement.
In fact, in 2010 the Parliament rejected the first draft of the agreement substituting it with a new version that has a stronger emphasis on data protection.
SWIFT returned to our parliamentary agenda in the past months, following reports of several newspapers, implying that the NSA could have had access to the SWIFT banking data outside of the agreed framework of the TFTP agreement.
If proven true, the breaching of the agreement has wider implications for EU – US relations and it will require firm actions from our side.
To clarify this point and to debate with MEPs, Ms Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs came to address our plenary on 9 October.
In her speech Ms Malmström said she had received confirmation from the Under-Secretary of the U.S Treasury Department, Mr David Cohen, that American agencies have not attempted to collect the financial information of EU citizens.
Ms Malmström added that while she expects further certifications from the US authorities, at this point there is no firm evidence to suggest the terms of TFTP had been violated.
But Ms Malmström’s statement did little to assuage the fears of my fellow colleagues from the Socialists, the Liberals and the Greens, who backed the EP resolution of 23 October (+ 280; – 254, 30 abstentions), calling on the European Commission to initiate the process of suspending the TFTP agreement until a proper and independent investigation has taken place.
While the European Parliament has no formal powers to cancel agreements of this type, we can withdraw our support for a particular agreement – forcing the Commission to act.
Furthermore, as co-legislator, the Parliament’s consent is necessary for the adoption of future international agreements (i.e a free trade deal with the US). Therefore the way the Council and the Commission respond to this case will certainly govern the way we react to further proposals that require our seal of approval as co-legislator…
Greetings from the European Parliament,
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg