EU Commission taken to Court over PNR transfer

By EDRi · April 21, 2004

Today, 21 April 2004, the European Parliament has voted to take the European Commission to court over the agreement with the United States Department of Homeland Security on the transfer of air passenger’s personal data (PNR) to U.S. authorities. The Strasbourg Court is now to examine whether the Commission, when making the deal, exceeded its powers and acted in disrespect of EU Data Protection legislation.

After a major controversy, the project for a recommendation to ask the opinion of the European Court of Justice was adopted with a small majority of only 276 votes against 260. The Parliament’s biggest Group – the centre-right wing PPE/DE, counting 232 of the House’s 626 members -, opposed the recommendation, as well as the 29-strong delegation of the UK Labour Party and presumably a handful of German Social Democrats.

They were under heavy pressure from Member States’ governments, who would not like to see the transfer challenged because they fear diplomatic complications with the U.S.

During the days and night preceding the vote, the Irish Presidency of the European Council had lobbied MEPs to drop their support for the recommendation. Ireland’s EU minister Dick Roche himself intervened with select MEPs in order turn the ballot, arguing privacy concerns had been taken into account in the agreement. More bluntly, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten had argued, addressing the Parliament on Tuesday, that the data transfer was going to take place, no matter what the Parliament’s vote was going to be, because national governments had the power to authorise it themselves. Likewise, the U.S. has already signalled it expects the transfer to continue with the backing of EU institutions other than the Parliament.

EUpolitix: MEPs take on EU and US over air data deal (21.04.2004)

EurActiv: Last ditch effort to iron out institutional clash over passenger data (20.04.2004)

(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU affairs director)