The European Parliament has agreed to a new deal giving U.S. agencies access to bank data about Europeans' international transactions in order to combat terrorism. An earlier version of the accord between the U.S. and the European Commission had been blocked by the Parliament exercising its new authority under the Lisbon treaty. So the resolution now reaffirms a broader institutional accord on transatlantic cooperation to fight terrorist networking.
Coincidentally, Washington announced Thursday that three al Qaeda suspects arrested in a Norway bomb plot were tracked down via the US anti-terrorism program searching through international bank transactions recorded by the Belguim-based company Swift.
"I can tell you the 'Terrorism Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) provided support to the Norwegian investigation of that al Qaeda threat," said the Treasury's Stuart Levey.
At the core of the now-resolved dispute was the governments' access to bulk data transfers handled by the bank-transfer system SWIFT. In February, the European Parliament rejected an initial version of the data-sharing deal on the grounds that it did not meet European standards for privacy protection.
This new agreement, however, passed as new privacy measures were added.
The negotiation, now successful, has left some feelings of concern in Washington, which are readily voiced by former Bush administration officials. Their theme is that the European Parliament has been ready to hamstring anti-terrorism (and temporarily put security at risk) as part of what many people see as a turf battle between EU institutions-- namely the newly empowered Parliament and the Commission and Council that initially negotiated the pact with Washington.