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07/12/2016

Parliament’s alliance against passenger data provisions crumbles

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Parliament’s alliance against passenger data provisions crumbles

Parliament’s alliance set against adopting the controversial Passenger Name Record (PNR) proposal fragmented yesterday in Strasbourg (11 February) as Socialists and Liberals signaled they would agree to the package with conditions, leaving only the Greens opposed as a group.

In a joint resolution MEPs called (by 532 votes to 136, with 36 abstentions) for counter-terrorism measures not to compromise fundamental rights.

Socialist, Green and Liberal MEPs had resisted the proposal for a PNR database in the face of mounting political pressure before today’s informal summit (12 February) in which heads of state will press them to adopt the measure urgently.

The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, swayed by the left and the Liberals, rejected the European Commission’s proposal on PNR in April 2013 by 30 votes to 25. The dossier has been stuck in the committee stage ever since.

Heads of state and government meeting in Brussels today will push call on MEPs to adopt the PNR measure “urgently”, following a period of intense lobbying by national politicians (see background) in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last month.

Read>> Parliament resists pressure on passenger data ahead of EU summit

Although its resolution is non-binding, MEPs signalled a clear willingness to finalise the proposal for a PNR directive by the end of the year, but they also urged the Commission and Council to work quickly in parallel on the adoption of the Data Protection Directive in parallel.

MEPs urged the EU executive to seek independent experts’ views on the “necessity and proportionality” of the PNR proposal.

The Liberals appeared satisfied that they could tie the two papers together ensuring concerns about privacy were addressed.

“Fighting terrorists and defending the privacy of our citizens go hand in hand. Parliament commits itself to work quickly, but only if the PNR proposal is supported by a legally sound system with the necessary safeguards,” said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

Resolution has pealed parties apart

“This resolution demands the Commission to prove the necessity and proportionality of the PNR proposal in close cooperation with national data protection authorities,” ALDE Vice-President Sophie in ‘t Veld, who acts as a shadow rapporteur on the paper, added.

The Greens, who continued to vote against the resolution, appeared isolated in firm opposition.

“I am surprised about them [Socialists and Liberals] accepting the adoption of the directive swiftly because they oppose blanket collection [of data] and they have repeatedly said this and voted for it,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German MEP and shadow rapporteur on the paper for the Greens.

“My impression is that they want to be a part of the grand coalition, but they will pay a high price for it with PNR,” Albrecht added.

For the greens the blanket retention of data without justification and temporary limitation was against the decisions of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the human rights court in Strasbourg and remained a red line that the party would not cross.

“It’s shameful that the other Group leaders want to play cheap politics and undermine the Kirkhope report as he seeks to get the right balance between our security and our liberties,” said Syed Kamall MEP, the British MEP who leads the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which backed the resolution.

“We cannot refuse the only solution Europe has proposed: the PNR,” said French European People’s Party MEP Alain Lamassoure. “Those that make this choice under-estimate the terrorist threat. War has been declared on the whole of Europe. For once, national governments are recognising their limitations and calling for European action. Our Parliament should be the first to celebrate this.”

MEPs call to enforce Schengen, not change it

Elsewhere in the resolution MEPs called for a “multilayer” approach to tackle fundamentalism, asking member states to invest in educational schemes to root out radicalisation.

They also called for counterbalances against online incitement to perform terrorist acts – an issue that leaders will also discuss at today’s summit – and called for the blocking of financial support to terrorist organisations and trafficking of firearms.

The Parliament signaled a clear preference in the resolution for member states to tighten up existing rules and make better use of the Schengen Information System (SIS), ruling out proposals to suspend the Schengen system.

France alone appeared to be championing the notion of rule changes to the Schengen treaty in advance of today’s summit, with most other Schengen states content to see the existing rules beefed up and enforced more comprehensively.

Background

PNR has been subject to heavyweight lobbying in the last fortnight. Last week (4 February) French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve met members of the civil liberties committee and urged them to adopt the proposal.

The French government has swung decisively in favour of PNR following the terrorist attacks last month, despite previous reservations.

>> Read: Emergency summit of European Interior Ministers in Paris

Cazeneuve said that he came for a frank and balanced discussion which might contribute to the formulation of a compromise on the PNR proposal.

On Wednesday evening (February 5) member states security experts met with key members of the civil liberties committee including the British rapporteur Timothy Kirkhope (European Conservatives and Reformists group) to explain how the PNR could assist them, but Greens and ALDE MEPs left the meeting unimpressed.

Last month (13 January) the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, implored MEPs in Strasbourg to accept the PNR. 

"If we do not manage to establish a single European PNR, we will end up with 28 national systems; a patchwork with holes. They would interfere with the privacy of citizens but would not properly protect their security," the Council President said.

 

Timeline

  • 12 February: Heads of state and government meet in Brussels for European Council summit

Further Reading