EU-US PNR deal: European Parliament discussing new court case
Update: 17.6.04: European Parliament: Majority in "Conference of Presidents" (party group leaders) backed the decision earlier in the day by a special meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee to take court action against the Commission over the EU-US PNR deal. Without putting the question to a vote, President Cox registered that there was a majority in favour of bringing actions before Court. He asked to have some days time to think about what to do, saying that if he decides not to follow the Legal Affairs Committee recommendation, he will ask, once again, for the opinion of the plenary. This is the second time that EP President Cox has used his powers to delay a decision to go to the court.
Parliament's Rules of Procedure, Parliament is represented by the President in legal matters (Rule 19(4)). Rule 91(3) - Proceedings before the Court of Justice - stipulates in greater detail that:
"3. The President shall bring an action on behalf of Parliament in accordance with the recommendation of the committee responsible.
At the start of the following part-session, he may put to plenary the decision on maintaining the action. Should plenary rule against the action by a majority of the votes cast, he shall withdraw it.
Should the President bring an action contrary to the recommendation of the committee responsible, he shall put to plenary, at the start of the following partsession, the decision on maintaining the action."
In its meeting of 16/06/04 the Legal Affairs Committee recommended the president of Parliament to:
1) bring an action for annulment (accelerated procedure) against the Council decision on the conclusion of an agreement between the EC and the USA on the processing and transfer of PNR data by air carriers to the US department of homeland security (bureau of customs and border protection).
Result of the vote: for vourt action: + 21 (PES, ELDR, GUE, V/ALE, PPE : Gil Robles; NI : Speroni, Capato); against - 10 (PPE, NI : Garaud)
2) withdraw the initial action of the EP for an opinion, which is superseded by the Council decision (unanimous vote);
3) to bring an action for annulment against the Commission decision on the adequate protection of personal data contained in the PNR of air passengers transferred to the US Bureau of customs and border protection.
Result of the vote: for court action : + 19 (PES, ELDR, GUE, V/ALE, NI : Speroni, Capato); against - 14 (PPE, NI : Garaud).
Neil MacCormick, Green/EFA MEP and member of the Legal Affairs Committee said after the meeting:
"The Committee voted decisively to challenge before the Court of Justice the Commission and Council decisions on PNR transfers. These decisions threaten to weaken citizens' rights to proper protection of data protection in Europe. Against the will of the Parliament, the Council and Commission acted unilaterally during the election recess to validate a deal with the US authorities concerning airlines' release of PNR data. The understanding is that these may be held for up to eight years."
"Nobody in Europe doubts the reality of the terrorist threat or the need for America to protect itself against terrorism. But the wholesale abandonment of hard-won protections of civil liberty undermines the very values we are seeking to defend in defending democracy against terrorism."
"Remedies must be proportional to dangers, and democratic answerability to elected parliaments must not be eroded. I am proud to have voted today with the substantial majority that demanded Court action to nullify the decisions of the Council and the Commission. It is probably the last vote I will cast as an MEP and it is certainly one of the most important."
The European Parliament will decide today whether to take out a new case against the European Commission on the EU-US deal on access to passenger name records (PNR, Statewatch's Observatory on PNR). The Commission signed the agreement, based on US "Underatkings", on 28 May. This was despite the parliament voting on no less than three occasions to reject the deal. This morning the Legal Affairs Committee is meeting and this afternoon (Wednesday 16 June 2004) the Conference of Presidents (the party group leaders) will meet. The President of the parliament, Pat Cox, has the sole power to bring a legal action on behlaf of the parliament. Cox could decide, despite the views of MEPs and the Committee, to defer any decision to the first plenary session of the newly-elected parliament and call for a fourth vote on the issue. Currently the "old" MEPs from the previous parliament (1999-2004) are in office until 19 July. The political complexion of the new parliament is more to the right.
The current PSE (Socialist group), ELDR (Liberal group) and Green/EFA (see press release below) are in favour of taking court action. The PPE (Conservative group) are against.
1. Note to the meeting of: Conference of Presidents (pdf)
2. Press release from the Green/EFA group (pdf)
3. Green/EFA: Briefing Note (pdf)
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