EU assembly may back U.S. bank data deal – sources
By Marcin Grajewski
BRUSSELS, Feb 8 (Reuters) – The European Parliament may approve a disputed deal with the United States on sharing bank data in the fight against terrorism if it is promised a say in future talks on the issue, parliamentary sources said.
The EU legislature’s civil liberties committee rejected an interim agreement on sharing data on cross-border bank transfers on the grounds that it failed to protect the privacy of European Union citizens. Washington says access to the information is crucial to combat terrorist financing.
But the full assembly may ratify the pact in a vote due on Thursday if EU governments and the European Commission guarantee that the parliament will be allowed an unprecedented role in negotiations on a future, permanent agreement.
“The parliament wants to have access to negotiations on the issue from the very early stages,” a parliamentary source said.
Parliament President Jerzy Buzek conveyed this message on Monday in a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose country holds the EU presidency in the first half of 2010.
“As you know, the European Parliament attaches high priority to ensuring that civil liberty and data protection are fully and properly safeguarded in the important fight against terrorism,” said the letter, seen by Reuters.
Ambassadors from the 27 EU governments were to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the parliament’s demands, seen by governments and the Commission as a power grab that could encroach on their prerogatives to negotiate agreements.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to Buzek on Friday, appealing to the parliament to back the agreement and acknowledging its role.
“We are writing to convey our sincere hope that the European Parliament will consent to the interim agreement on the terrorist finance tracking programme,” said the letter, read to Reuters by a parliamentary official.
Under the interim deal, the United States is able to access information collected by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which registers money transfers among states.
The agreement went into force on Feb. 1 for an initial nine months but will be suspended if parliament votes against it.
Washington previously had access to the transfer data, but lost it when SWIFT moved its servers from the United States to Europe. It now wants a permanent agreement on data sharing.
The parliament’s demands are part of a drive to ensure that its expanded powers, gained under the EU’s new Lisbon treaty, are respected in practice.
Among other provisions, the treaty allows the parliament to decide jointly with EU governments on justice and home affairs.
(Editing by Dale Hudson and Paul Taylor) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +322 2876830; Reuters Messaging: