Spanish Minister for Home Affairs, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. EFE
On Monday, the Spanish Minister for Home Affairs, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, on behalf of the European Union, and the United States Embassy's Economic Officer to the EU, Michael Dodman, signed the agreement on the transfer of bank data (SWIFT), in order to facilitate the task of following the financial trail left by alleged terrorists.
The agreement was signed in Brussels in the presence of the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, and will now be submitted to the European Parliament, where a majority of its members must vote for ratification, at a plenary session to be held from 5 to 8 July, before it can take effect.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba expressed his 'satisfaction' at having sealed 'a good agreement' with Washington, which is 'important' for 'preventing and combating terrorism'.
This agreement between Brussels and Washington, which had not existed since February when the European Parliament vetoed the earlier text, was one of the priorities which the Spanish Presidency of the EU had set for its six-month term of office.
'In our view this is an excellent agreement, which reflects the concerns which the European Parliament raised, and we have reached it in dialogue with the Parliament,' he added.
For her part, Cecilia Malmström stated that she was 'delighted' at the signing of this agreement, the first of its kind since the Treaty of Lisbon came into effect, and added that it would both enable the fight against terrorism and the protection of personal data.
Michael Dodman pointed out that it had been 'a very long and intense process. It is a very solid agreement and we want it to be applied fully as it is important for the security of the European Union and the United States.'
The agreement allows the American Treasury Department to receive financial data originating in the European Union, in order to more thoroughly investigate, search for, identify and prosecute alleged terrorists and their financial backers, while preserving an adequate level of data protection.
It was deemed necessary following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001; since then, the United States has shared the pertinent conclusions drawn from its data analysis with EU Member States, resulting in the effective investigation and prevention of terrorist attacks, including attacks on EU citizens.
Once the agreement has been ratified, it will apply for five years, subject to annual renewal, unless a party to the agreement communicates his intention not to extend SWIFT.
The agreement became possible after the Member States agreed to included some of the Parliament's demands, such as selecting data regarding European citizens before transferring it to the USA, something which did not occur before, with information being transferred without being filtered.
Europe has five years to set up its own system for ensuring that individual freedoms and privacy are respected; in the meantime, European officials will control the extraction of data by the United States from the servers of the SWIFT international banking consortium.
One of the key elements of the agreement is the supervision of requests for information by the USA; this will be carried out by the European Police Office, Europol, which will filter and supervise data transfers to ensure that they comply with the required guarantees.