The prospect of a swift ratification of the Lisbon Treaty following the Irish ‘yes’ last weekend will allow the European Parliament to re-open sensitive dossiers, including bilateral agreements on visa waivers with the United States that involve the transfer of personal data.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP from the Parliament’s liberal (ALDE) group, told EURACTIV that the EU assembly will be granted new powers to scrutinise such deals once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, allowing more democratic control over “backroom deals” struck between countries on a bilateral basis.
In 2006, in ‘t Veld led talks within the Parliament over the supply of data on transatlantic airline passengers to US authorities following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (EURACTIV 9/10/06).
But she says these will have to be revisited as soon as the Lisbon Treaty comes into force. “There will be a number of legislative proposals which have not been finalised yet that will need to be re-opened [following the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification],” in ‘t Veld said in an interview with EURACTIV.
“Many will be in the area of the use and transfer of personal data to other countries like the United States. We’re talking about bank data, we’re talking about passenger data, we’re talking about giving the Americans and other countries access to European databases of personal data.”
“All these things will need to be re-opened,” said in ‘t Veld, who is vice-chairwoman of the Parliament’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs.
Bilateral visa agreements passed between individual European countries and the United States are also likely to be affected, she said, because the Americans are tying visa waiver agreements to the transfer of additional passenger data.
“The Americans mainly want more access for example to police records,” she said. “So if we want to keep our visa waiver, we have to give them more.”
During talks last year, Washington refused to give in to pressure from the European Commission to negotiate an EU-wide visa waiver deal and said it will continue to strike bilateral agreements with individual member states (EURACTIV 14/03/08).
The Union will not be negotiating all the conditions on behalf of European countries, in ‘t Veld explained, as this will remain a national competence. But parts of the agreements that are negotiated collectively by the EU will now fall under the Parliament’s scrutiny, she said.
This should be seen as a victory for democracy, she said. “EU member states have so far thought it was very cosy to have their backroom deals, but they can no longer do that.”
“Whatever they do will now be subject to democratic scrutiny and I think that is a major step forward for democracy in Europe.”