Negotiations on an EU proposal on passenger name records (PNR) recently took on a different shape, as member states are being won over by British arguments that collecting data on air travel to destinations outside the bloc alone would leave a considerable security gap.
According to an EU paper seen by EurActiv, the UK proposal has struck a chord with many member states, because countries fear they could miss out on a substantial amount of data on suspected terrorists, who are changing the way they travel.
"In 15 countries, more than 70% of the flights are intra-EU flights," the paper reads.
"Indeed, analyses made by counter-terrorism agencies demonstrate that terrorists often use EU hubs instead of direct international flights and that the complexity of their journeys has increased," the paper continues.
The detection of David Headley, the 2008 Mumbai bomber, would not have been possible without the data of an intra-EU flight from Germany to the UK, argues Theresa May, the UK's justice minister, in a letter sent to her Hungarian equivalent Sándor Pintér on 3 March, according to a copy seen by EurActiv.
At talks between the EU's 27 ambassadors yesterday (30 March), Spain, France, Italy and Poland were the most stringent in their support for the inclusion of flights within the EU, diplomatic sources reveal.
At the moment, if a drug trafficker flies from South America to Lisbon, he/she could stay in Portugal for a few days before booking a new flight on a different airline, which would leave a broken trail of PNR data leading others to believe the individual is still in Lisbon.
Going against EU law?
Though the inclusion of intra-EU flights is currying favour among EU countries, not all are convinced that this is in line with EU laws on free movement.
Austria and Slovenia are rallying behind Germany's argument that PNR collection on intra-EU flights goes against EU provisions on the free movement of persons enshrined in the acquis communautaire.
In fact, a German paper seen by EurActiv highlights 25 different problems found in the draft PNR proposal, including data retention periods and data protection.
These countries would want to limit the proposal to collecting PNR on flights to and from third countries alone, with a review period of about four years to consider whether intra-EU flights should be included or not.
In addition, member states are discussing whether they should only seek data on a targeted amount of flights which match flight patterns taken by suspected criminals, the selection of which would be left up to member states.
Sources say this is also a British proposal, as currently the UK Border Agency only targets flights classified as high-risk by their analysts.
Though EU officials have held discussions nearly every week on the various arguments put forward by different countries, an agreement for the proposal has been earmarked for the autumn after the EU's summer lull.
Then ministers will have to clinch an agreement with the European Parliament, which is getting a reputation for a firm stance on the protection of citizens' data.
At the next meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on 11 April, the EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmström, will make a belated presentation of her initial PNR proposal unveiled late last year.