EU-US deal on anti-terror data exchange hits snag

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A deal to strengthen data protection rules in EU-US anti-terror investigations has riled some member states, who will be seeking "a seat" at the transatlantic negotiating table during a meeting of justice ministers in Brussels today (2 December). 

The European Union is struggling to lay down an agreement with the US after MEPs caused a storm of controversy over the protection of personal data and fundamental rights for EU citizens in US anti-terror investigations.

The UK, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany are due to take a stand at today's ministerial meeting as they want their national parliaments to have a say on the terms of the agreement.

"We want to have a seat at the table in areas of mixed competence," an EU diplomat said.

In EU-speak, these countries are seeking a so-called 'mixed agreement' whereby national parliaments would be involved in decision-making.

The European Parliament disagrees: "This should not be a mixed agreement and that would take too long to get agreement with the US," said Jan Philip Albrecht MEP (Greens; Germany), the Parliament's special envoy for the deal.

Although the European Parliament is not involved in writing the agreement, its final approval will be needed to clear the deal, giving it a veto right at the final hurdle.

In addition, the UK and the Czech Republic want tomorrow's agreement to explicitly state that it will not overstep existing bilateral agreements on data protection with the US.

Though more than just two countries share this view, diplomats and legislators expect a qualified majority at tomorrow's meeting, giving the European Commission the baton to negotiate a deal with the US.

An EU source said the agreement's contents relate to general fundamental rights which have minimal impact on national security.

German insistence on getting the Bundestag involved in negotiations harks back to an earlier row on the Lisbon Treaty, when Germany's constitutional court handed its politicians greater oversight over EU affairs.

In 2010, the European Parliament initially blocked the application of an interim agreement on sharing of financial data between Washington and Brussels (SWIFT) on the grounds of a lack of sufficient guarantees that EU citizens' privacy would be protected. A revised deal had to be struck between the EU and US authorities to please MEPs (EURACTIV 07/07/10).

As a result the Parliament called for an EU-US agreement on data protection that ensures adequate protection of civil liberties and personal data.

In December 2009, the European Council asked the Commission to propose a recommendation "for the negotiation of a data protection and, where necessary, data sharing agreements for law enforcement purposes with the US".

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