To resolve the internal strife in Brussels on sharing financial data with the US, the European Commission yesterday announced (24 March) it would seek to create an EU 'Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme' (TFTP), based on the one in the USA, which was created after the 9/11 attacks.
The TFTP would be part of upcoming negotiations between the European Commission and the US administration to resurrect the interim SWIFT agreement on sharing financial data, which was blocked by the European Parliament in February.
The collapsed SWIFT agreement will likely be negotiated by EU Commissioners Cecilia Malmström and Viviane Reding if the 27 member states' leaders and the European Parliament agree that the two are the right people for the job.
A summit of EU leaders on 22 April is expected to discuss the appointment of the two commissioners as chief EU negotiators on SWIFT.
The agreement was blocked by MEPs in February who, by a large majority, argued that it gave the US authorities too much wiggle room to play around with large swathes of EU citizens' financial data (EURACTIV 11/02/10).
A TFTP appears to be the long-term goal of the Commission, which says it would give them more autonomy over financial data tracking and anti-terror investigations.
"An EU TFTP could mean that the EU will not have to send data to third countries, that it can conduct its own investigations, that it can share its analysis with the US and that we can work more as partners," a Commission source told EURACTIV.
Though the European Parliament has largely pushed for an EU equivalent of the USA's anti-terror programme, MEPs are very sceptical that member states would relinquish authority on such a sensitive matter to the EU.
Reding and Malmström said they would like to clinch an agreement on SWIFT by June but that the timing of the EU's TFTP would be subject to talks with the US.
The TFTP will require new EU legislation, which will have to be cleared by member states and MEPs.
In addition, financial cost, human resources and where data would be stored, among others, would also figure in the EU executive's proposal.
New SWIFT terms
As part of the Commission's new mandate on SWIFT, it will seek to ensure that EU citizens have the same legal rights as their US counterparts on American soil, that financial data is not passed to third parties and that data requests are scrutinised by an EU judicial body.
This could be done by Europol – the European Law Enforcement Organisation – whose headquarters are in the Dutch capital, The Hague, or a new authority, an EU source added.
In the interim SWIFT agreement, both parties wanted the EU's judicial authority to sit in the Netherlands as the SWIFT servers were located there.
On bulk data – the European Parliament's main concern in the interim agreement – Malmström said she would try and limit the scope of bulk data requests to anti-terror investigations only.
Such limits could make sure that requests for data are more specific and limited to all transactions in a certain location, by a certain nationality, in certain banks or within a certain time-frame, as well as supported by evidence, an EU source explained.