EU Ministers reach deal on exchange of air passenger data


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EU governments and the European Parliament drew years of wrangling over security forces’ use of airline passenger data toward a close on Friday (December 4) by agreeing to a compromise deal with the legislature.

Luxembourg Interior Minister Etienne Schneider, who chaired the council of 28 governments in Brussels, made the announcement at a news conference after the meeting.

“I am hereby proud to confirm that, after some many years of discussions, we finally managed to reach an agreement on a European PNR (Passenger Name Record) on the Council’s side,” Schneider told reporters.

The dispute over the retention and sharing of passenger name records became a shibboleth in Brussels.

Islamist attacks in Paris this year, in January and last month, lent impetus to France and other governments to press the EU parliament to relent. German lawmakers in particular have been wary of mass data collection, recalling historic abuses and new revelations about U.S. surveillance. However, a new proposal from legislators this week won interior ministers backing.

The deal foresees data being available to other countries’ security agencies for six months and stored and available under stricter rules for a further four and half years.

A French call for the rules to apply not only to flights to and from non-EU countries but to internal EU flights was left in the deal as an option.

PNR includes name, travel dates, itinerary, ticket details, contact details, travel agent, means of payment, seat number and baggage information. Many police forces already collect it and many European states share it with each other and with countries outside Europe. But the lack of a common EU system, including data formats, has been seen as hampering European security.

Speaking before the meeting, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said before the meeting the PNR would be an effective tool to track militants flying to and across Europe.

“France has been mobilized for many months to obtain this tool that is indispensable in the fight against terrorism because terrorists take flights inside Europe and we must establish traceability of their return so that we can prevent terrorist risks,” Cazeneuve said at his arrival at the Council.

Also speaking before the meeting, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called for the bloc’s border agency, Frontex, to be given responsibility for controlling a frontier with a non-Schengen if a member state failed to do so.

“Frontex needs to be strengthened. Germany and France have started an initiative to achieve this. The Commission will put forward a proposal in December with the goal that, when a member state is unable to control its borders effectively, then Frontex would take over,” Maiziere said.

Maiziere added France and Germany were pushing for the creation of a permanent European Border and Coast Guard — a measure the European Commission has confirmed it will propose on December 15.

Greece has come under heavy pressure from states concerned about Schengen this week to accept EU offers of help on its borders.

A dramatic increase in EU powers over national territory would be deeply controversial in much of Europe. On Thursday, Danes, who are part of the Schengen zone, heeded Eurosceptic calls and voted against giving their government power to deepen its cooperation with the EU policy agency.

The European Union faces another test over the next two years as Britain, its second biggest economy, prepares to hold a referendum on whether to quit. Although not a member of the 26-nation Schengen zone, and so unaffected by increased powers for EU border guards, increasing Brussels’s say over security policies in Schengen states might fuel the campaign to leave.

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