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Frattini Unveils Progress On PNR Talks With US

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

15 September 2006

Speaking to the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Commission on Tuesday, European Commission vice-president, Franco Frattini revealed that the US administration is ready to accept the EU's request for a two-stage procedure in the talks on the transfer of passenger name records (PNR).

MEPs agreed with the timetable put forward by Council and Commission representatives but were keen that the substance of the agreement be improved, and they voiced concern about the unclear ratification process.

The idea proposed by the Council to US officials during their first negotiating meeting last Friday was for the two sides to sign an initial interim agreement to run until November 2007 - in which the conditions on data protection and transfer of PNR would remain unchanged - and start immediate negotiations for a further definitive agreement to run from 2008, on which the content can be renegotiated.

"The US said it was prepared to enter into negotiations of substance" on this second agreement, Mr Frattini announced.

Asked whether the US was willing to make its commitments on the protection and use of data legally binding, Mr Frattini admitted that this would not be easy for the first short term agreement, since it would require the US Congress to ratify these conditions (known as the 'undertakings', which are now in an annex and not part of the legal text).

Commissioner Frattini warned of the risks of not reaching a PNR deal with US to replace the pact annulled by the EU Court of Justice, which is due to expire on September 30. He explained that there is not enough time for negotiations at present and that he had urged US officials to accept merely a change in how the deal is framed legally.

Most MEPs agreed that a bad agreement is better than no agreement at all. If no deal is reached this month, airlines will continue to send data requested by the United States but without the safeguards provided by the deal, stressed Mr Frattini.

Earlier this year, the ECJ annulled a previous agreement between the European Union and the United States government regarding the handover of air passenger data to US security agencies.

In the face of grave concerns, the EC had issued assurances that the US authorities would provide the necessary privacy protections for such data. However, the ECJ disputed that decision, arguing that:

"Neither the Commission decision finding that the data are adequately protected by the United States nor the Council decision approving the conclusion of an agreement on their transfer to that country are founded on an appropriate legal basis."

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