Parliament asks for the termination of EU-US bank data deal

European Parliament, plenary session in Strasbourg, week 43, 2013. Vote by a show of hands. (EP Audiovisual Services, 23/10/2013).

European Parliament, plenary session in Strasbourg, week 43, 2013. Vote by a show of hands. (EP Audiovisual Services, 23/10/2013).

The European Parliament finally voted in favour of the suspension of EU-US bank data deal, in response to NSA snooping. “The EU should suspend its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement with the US in response to the US National Security Agency‘s alleged tapping of EU citizens’ bank data held by the Belgian company SWIFT”, said a non-binding resolution voted by Parliament yesterday.

The Parliamentary debate over this issue was launched in the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) of the Parliament on 24 September. On that occasion the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström informed the MEPs that she had not received satisfactory replies from the US authorities, concerning the allegations. She said she had written to the Under Secretary of US Treasury, David Cohen, on 12 September to ask for clarifications, following the allegations in the Press that the NSA had been wiring personal financial data from SWIFT’s international bank-transfer database. Then she stressed “I am not satisfied with the answers I got so far…we need more information and clarity”. All this was reported by the European Sting on 4 October.

The LIBE Committee

The discussion in the LIBE Committee continued on 9 October. The MEPs resumed their debate whether the SWIFT agreement should be suspended, following the revelations about NSA surveillance. However, according to a Press release issued after that meeting, the climate was completely different from 24 September discussion and the Committee appeared divided.

This was evident in the text of the Press release issued after the LIBE meeting. It went like this, “US surveillance of the internet: major threat to people’s privacy or a storm in a tea cup? Opinions have been divided in discussions on our social media platforms….The Parliament conducts an inquiry to discover the truth about the revelations by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden… European Parliament fans on our Google page also showed themselves to be sceptical”.

Then, the Press release added that somebody asked on that Google page, “Are we so naive as to believe it’s just the Americans? Are you cleaner than clean, EU?” MEP Mogens Camre went as far as to say that, “The truth is that we Europeans cannot defend ourselves against terror in our territory, without the support of information from friendly countries.”

The plenary decided

As a result, the LIBE Committee didn’t formulate a decision, to be debated and voted upon in the plenary Parliament of 23 October. Given this obvious void, three major Parliamentary parties had to intervene. The S&D, ALDE and Greens/EFA groups tabled a resolution in yesterday’s plenary asking that “the EU should suspend its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement with the US”. The resolution was passed by the House with 280 votes to 254 and 30 abstentions.

In this way, the sceptical MEPs of the LIBE Committee were clearly sidestepped. On top of that, the resolution of the Plenary in a way ‘orders’ the Civil Liberties Committee, “to continue the special inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens and look into the allegations”. Seemingly, the House was not at all happy with the work done by the LIBE Committee.

The Parliament mandates the Commission

Those who oppose the suspension of this EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), point out gloatingly that according to the Treaty of the European Union, this resolution of the European Parliament is not binding. This might be so, but they forget that the Parliament can, and did mandate the Commission to ask the Council to seek the termination of the EU-US TFTP programme. “The Commission will have to act if Parliament withdraws its support for a particular agreement”, says the text of the resolution approved yesterday. It adds that the “Parliament will take account of the Commission’s response to this demand, when considering whether to give its consent to future international agreements”.

In view of all that, the Commission will very probably act, and ask the Council to withdraw from the deal. “If media reports are true this constitutes a breach of the agreement and a breach of the agreement can lead to suspension,” Commissioner Malmström pointed out on Tuesday 24 September while speaking at the LIBE Committee. She also clarified that, “If the Commission deemed it necessary to propose a suspension, “this should be decided by qualified majority in the Council”. The Sting reported that on 4 October also.

Then, the issue will surely land on the table of the Council of the EU member state ministers. Or, possibly, it will end up on the agenda of the last 2013 Summit of the 28 heads of states and governments. Irrespective of the final outcome, just the fact that the suspension of EU-US bank data deal will be discussed in the EU Council, is enough of a blow to the US. It will be also a lesson to those MEPs of the LIBE Committee, who cynically wanted to void the issue as ‘a storm in a tea cup’.

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