SWIFT saga now over? MEPs approve new deal over US access to EU bank data - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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SWIFT saga now over? MEPs approve new deal over US access to EU bank data

Thursday, 8 July 2010
Is the SWIFT saga finally over? MEPs, who had previously rejected the deal back in February, endorsed the new agreement by a large majority in Strasbourg today with 484 votes in favour, 109 against and 12 abstentions after they succeeded in obtaining extra concessions to protect data privacy.

SWIFT, the Belgium-based organisation through which 80% of the world's overseas financial transactions pass, had been the subject of many attempts by the previous US Administration to access this data in the name of anti-terrorism.

Under the revised and approved deal, which comes into force on 1st August 2010, the EU will appoint an independent observer to oversee the way personal data on bank transactions are searched by US authorities when looking for sources of terrorist funding, and in addition the European Law Enforcement Organisation (Europol) will be checking that every data request from the US is justified and valid. It will even be able to block data transfers.

Reading through the accepted proposal, it is clear that the MEPs’ demand for a legally binding solution has been heeded. The twin track approach to guarantee privacy is as follows:

In the short-term, data transfers will continue, but European officials will monitor and be able to block the extraction of data on US soil (Track I).

In the mid-term, the European institutions will put in place the legal and technical framework for the extraction of data on EU soil, thus precluding the need for bulk data transfers to the US (Track II).

In addition, there is also a requirement that bulk data cannot ever be sent onwards to third-party countries.

The expected vote result in plenary came after the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) have approved the five-year agreement by 41 votes for, nine against and just one abstention.

Across the pond in America, the result was welcomed by President Barack Obama who in a statement said that “the threat of terrorism faced by the United States and the European Union continues and, with this agreement, all of our citizens will be safer”.

But Alexander Alvaro, the German liberal MEP charged with guiding the accord through Parliament, was not completely happy commenting that “a compromise will never represent everything we wanted, but it is a great step forward”.

The rejection by the Parliament back in February had been interpreted by many as MEPs determined to make their voice heard and exploit the new powers it gained from the Lisbon Treaty. Considered in this respect, they will no-doubt be overjoyed to have forced such a compromise to be made.

But for Jerzy Buzek, the incumbent President of the Parliament, this saga has been symbolic and sends a powerful message to the other EU institutions: “to avoid mishaps in the future, the council [of EU ministers] and commission must treat the European Parliament as an equal player at all stages of negotiations, keeping it fully informed and taking its views seriously into account," he said following the vote.

"Today's vote in the European Parliament hopefully brings the SWIFT affair to an end."

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