Thursday 28 January 2010

Growing opposition against EU-USA SWIFT or TFTP agreement

Active opposition against the so called SWIFT agreement on the rendition of financial data from the European Union to the United States of America seems to be growing among experts, in the European Parliament and beyond.

One the one hand, there is the interim TFTP agreement the member states’ governments (Council) wanted to enter into force on 1 February 2010, without burdening the European Parliament with scrutiny. On the other hand, there are plans for a long term agreement, but the Council has been less than zealous in engaging the European Parliament.

Members of the EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) have not taken the combination of pressure secrecy from the Council and the European Commission kindly, as seen in SWIFT interim agreement: Civil liberties Committee to vote on 4 February (27 January 2010).

The procedure file NLE/2009/0190 EU/USA agreement: processing and transfer of Financial Messaging Data for purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program on Oeil, the Legislative Observatory of the European Parliament, tells us the basic facts about the existing documents:

1) COUNCIL DECISION on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of Financial Messaging Data from the European Union to the United States for purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (document 16110/09), meant to enter into force provisionally from 1 February and remaining in force until 31 October 2010. This interim agreement has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union as Council Decision 2010/16/CFSP/JHA, OJEU 13.1.2010 L 8/9 & 11.

2) The previous initial legislative document contains the Commission’s proposal on the conclusion of the TFTP Agreement; 17 December 2009; COM(2009)0703 final.

3) COUNCIL DECISION on the conclusion of the Agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of Financial Messaging Data from the European Union to the United States for purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program; dated 20 January 2010; Council document 5305/10. The meaning of the document is somewhat unclear. Is it a belated attempt by the Council to ask for the consent of the European Parliament with regard to the interim agreement after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty? Or is it meant to cover the planned long term agreement? Anyway, the “attached” substance of the agreement is missing.


The LIBE Committee has been doing what such parliamentary committees are supposed to do: gathering information about the impact of the TFTP Agreement on fundamental rights of EU citizens.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (Working Party on Police and Justice) has expressed concerns on data protection grounds.

The European Data Protection Supervisor considers that not enough elements have been provided so far to justify the necessity and proportionality of such a privacy-intrusive [TFTP] agreement, which in many aspects overlaps with already existing EU and international instruments in this area.

Political reactions

Given the evidence, political reactions have continued, but they have also become sharper.

In December 2009 the liberal group ALDE pushed for an agreement with the other political groups on two conditions for EP approval: that Parliament has full access to all relevant documents and information connected to the SWIFT agreement and that Council's negotiating mandate for the longer-term agreement, to replace this interim agreement expiring by 31 October 2010, fully reflect Parliament' stated concerns in its resolution of September; in Parliament sets conditions for granting consent to SWIFT agreement (17 December 2009).

Practically all the political groups expressed concerns and conditions during the EP’s SWIFT debate on 20 January 2010.

The Greens-EFA parliamentary group has opted for rejection of the SWIFT agreement as a breach of fundamental rights, quoting home affairs spokesman Jan-Philipp Albrecht: EU-US SWIFT bank data agreement: Parliament must stop Council in its tracks (27 January 2010).

The Pirate Party is going to vote for rejection of the SWIFT Agreement in the European Parliament, says Henrik Alexandersson, who posts a press release (in Swedish): Piratpartiet röstar nej till SWIFT-avtalet (28 January 2010).

Euroblogs (in German) has been keeping a close watch on the SWIFT agreement process. Recommended reading.

Piratpartiet live has aggregated a number of blog posts opposing the SWIFT agreement (mostly in Swedish). Here are but two examples:

Maloki says no to the SWIFT Agreement: Nej till SWIFT-avtalet! (28 January 2010).

Anna Troberg: Piratpartiet säger nej till SWIFT-avtalet (28 January 2010).

Ralf Grahn

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  1. Apparently German conservative adn Ferber have said today that they will vote against the SWIFT agreement on 10 February.

    See this article - in German:

  2. Brussels Blogger,

    Thank you for the reference. The affair is beginning to look interesting.

  3. Thanks for your great in-depth coverage of this issue - it's good to see that the EP is pushing to make an impact on this matter.

    While the EP as a whole seems committed to standards of privacy, the differing positions of the groups are interesting. The EPP seems to have some doubts over SWIFT, but argue that while the EP deserves a say, it should pass it largely untouched in order to have something in place while a better deal can be struck.

    The Liberals and S&D seem to want more substantial amendments introducing safeguards. On the BBC's The Record Europe, Sharon Wheeler (the presenter) pointed out to the UK S&D MEP in their debate that the UK government was squarely behind the deal - but though he was quieter than the Liberal MEP in his support for amendments, he did seem to be on the same lines as her. Perhaps we can infer a good deal of unity in the S&D group on the issue?

    It's not just the right to review the agreement that matters, but what the EP does to uphold citizen's rights. I look forward to your evaluation of how the MEPs do on this count.

  4. Eurocentric,

    I believe that you are quite right. There are differences between the political groups, but they are more felt through what they omit than by what they say in some cases.

    Without knowing for sure, if the Council continues to be clumsy and reticent, the EP may end up rejecting the interim agreement. And there are only a few days to involve the Parliament, which has clearly stated its conditions, substantial and procedural.

  5. I read that on the 4th February it should become clearer how the EP is going to vote somewhat a week later. Then the parliamentary groups are going to find a position on it. Is that right?

    This SWIFT agreement made it into the newspapers in Austria and in Germany at least (with prominently positioned articles and even opinion pieces). Its interesting to see that it is nearly entirely ignored in the English speaking media. I wonder now, what of these two ways of handling this topic is rather the European norm. I fear the latter.

  6. Slartibartfas,

    I suppose you're right; between the LIBE committee on the 4th and the plenary vote on the 9th or 10th the political groups decide on how to vote.

    This could give the Council a few days to avert a crisis.

    As you indicate, media coverage of EU affairs is patchy. In Germany and Austria SWIFT / TFTP encountered parliamentary resistance and government reservations ahead of the Council decision 30 November 2009, so I guess that the issue has remained on the radar screens.

    EU coverage in British media never ceases to fascinate me.


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