EU, US restart talks to clinch June anti-terror deal


The European Commission and the US Treasury yesterday (11 May) began a series of talks on the contested financial data sharing deal to combat terrorism in an effort to clinch an agreement before the end of June 2010, Commission sources said. 

Efforts to restore the deal have taken on a heady pace as talks began just hours after EU ministers gave the Commission negotiators their blessing to go ahead and re-launch negotiations that were derailed by parliamentary opposition in February.

An interim agreement on sharing banking data held by a transaction firm called SWIFT was blocked by the European Parliament, which feared it ran counter to European laws on fundamental rights and civil liberties (EURACTIV 11/02/10).

Now negotiators are concentrating their talks on the issues that overturned the agreement, such as how much data the US Treasury can ask for, what kind of data, how long they can keep it for and what kind of rights an EU citizen has in a US court room, said a Commission source.

"There really is not much left to discuss," the source added.

He also warned that in the coming months little will be known about the substance of the actual negotiations, which has been a source of worry for the European Parliament.

MEPs took matters into their own hands with a trip to Washington this month to find out if they had struck common ground with their counterparts across the pond.

"The appearance of co-operation from the US side was pleasantly surprising," said Stavros Lambrinidis, a Greek Socialist MEP who is a vice-president at the European Parliament and who also attended meetings in Washington with Treasury and Congress officials.

The European Parliament is seeking plans for an EU-based financial data authority before striking a new EU-US financial data sharing deal to combat terrorism, members of the legislature's justice committee, LIBE, told EURACTIV after their trip (EURACTIV 05/05/10).

SWIFT is a Belgium-based private company that handles the banking transactions of thousands of banks, including most European ones.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the US government used the new Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) to force SWIFT's American branch (which mirrors all data based in Belgium) to allow US officials access to all bank transactions in order to help anti-terrorism operations.

In a show of newly-gained power under the Lisbon Treaty, in February 2010, the European Parliament blocked an interim SWIFT data-sharing agreement negotiated by the European Commission and the US Treasury (EURACTIV 11/02/10).

Some European political groups, notably the liberal faction in the Parliament, have repeatedly criticised the agreement as "not only a restraint on European sovereignty but a massive intrusion into every single European citizen's privacy".

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