On October 23, 2013, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of an EU-US Agreement on the transfer of financial data for the purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (the so-called “SWIFT Agreement”). The resolution comes after allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has had unauthorized access to EU citizens’ bank data held by the Belgian company SWIFT.
The SWIFT Agreement, which entered into force in 2010, permits the sharing of EU citizens’ bank data with US authorities for the purposes of preventing, investigating and prosecuting conduct pertaining to terrorism or terrorist financing subject to a number of data protection safeguards.
However, following the recent allegations that the NSA has had direct access to EU citizens’ financial payment messages and related data in breach of the SWIFT Agreement, the European Parliament adopted the resolution asking the European Commission to suspend the Agreement. The resolution also calls for further investigations of the NSA spying allegations by requesting the Council and the EU Member States to authorize the Europol Cybercrime Centre to carry out a full on-site technical investigation and by inviting the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to conduct a special inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens.
While the European Parliament does not have formal powers to initiate the suspension or termination of an international agreement, the resolution sends a strong political signal to the Commission and EU Member States, and may trigger long-term consequences for EU inter-institutional relations. According to the resolution, the Parliament expects the Commission to react to the Parliament’s withdrawal of support to the SWIFT Agreement and indicates that “the Parliament will take account of the Commission’s response to this demand when considering whether to give its consent to future international agreements“.
It is also possible that the Parliament’s political pressure will have consequences to some of the on-going EU discussions in other contexts, such as the reform of the data protection framework, TTIP, and financial services.