EU-US PNR (passenger name record) "deal" to go for a second vote in European Parliament



The decision of the European Parliament to take the European Commission to the Court of Justice over its planned deal to authorise access by US agencies to passenger data on those flying from the EU is to be voted on yet again at the plenary session next week. The parliament criticised the Commission's finding of "adequacy" of the "Undertakings" provided by the USA (which undermines the EU's Data Protection Directive) and object to only being "consulted" on the issue.

On 31 March the parliament's plenary session voted by 229 votes to 202 with 19 abstentions in favour of a Resolution rejecting the Commission's finding of "adequacy" and reserved the right to take the matter to the Court of Justice if the proposal was not withdrawn. On 6 April the matter came before the Legal Affairs Committee - which is the usual procedure following a vote in the plenary calling for legal action. The Committee agreed by 16 votes to 12 to refer the issue to the court. The normal procedure is for the the decision of this committee to be acted upon by the "Conference of Presidents" (the party leaders meeting) who would decide the timetable and instruct the legal services of the parliament.

The "Conference of Presidents" met on Thursday 15 April and, most unusually, decided to refer it back to the next plenary session and called on the Commission to come to the parliament on Monday (make a statement) to withdraw its proposal and introduce a new one which would give the parliament a full say. This decision was unusual in that it is the norm for the President of the parliament (Pat Cox, ELDR) to follow the advice of the Legal Affairs Committee on taking legal action. The Rules of Procedure envisage a plenary vote on the question of initiating procedures basically for the eventuality that the President would want to bring action before the ECJ against the recommendation of the committee.

It is reported (by eupolitix.com) that Pat Cox is "said to be nervous about the prospect of a high-profile legal battle" in the post 11 March (Madrid) deaths - though presumably MEPs were aware of this when voting after 11 March both in the plenary and in the Legal Affairs Committee. Graham Watson, leader of the ELDR (Liberal) group, has put out a press statement:
Watson statement (pdf) saying that: "although many of us feel that parliament's position on the issue of seeking a court ruling is clear, we decided to request a statement... We share the commitment of the United States to fighting terrorism, but we will not ride roughshod over the privacy rights of Europeans in this fight."

The result of the second vote next week may well hinge on the position of German and UK members of the PSE (Socialist group) who are in favour of the EU-US "deal" even though a majority of their group are not.

Documentation

1. Full-text of the Resolution adopted by the European Parliament at its plenary session on 31 March 2004 opposing the transfer of passenger data (PNR) to the USA and reserving the right to take the issue to the European Court of Justice: EP Resolution (pdf)
2. Letter from the Chair of the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights has written to the European Commission informing them formally of the parliament's views:
Letter (French - pdf)

3. T
he draft agreement with the USA: Full-text (pdf)
4. Commission finding of "adequacy" plus US "Undertakings" (pdf)
5. For the full background see Statewatch's Observatory on PNR


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