June 19, 2006

EU vows swift action on US passenger data

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission vowed on
Monday to take swift action to safeguard an anti-terrorism
measure requiring EU states to supply advance details of
passengers heading to U.S. airports.

A current agreement to supply the names, addresses, payment
details and telephone numbers of passengers was struck down by
the EU's highest court last month on a legal technicality.

The EU's executive said it was confident it could come up
with an alternative legal basis for delivering the same
information by October 1, when the existing accord runs out.

"We need to take swift, robust and legally sound action to
make sure we don't have any difficulty or distortion of
transatlantic flights," a spokesman for EU Justice Commissioner
Franco Frattini told a news briefing.

"To our minds, there are no grounds to change the content
of the agreement," he added of the pact, which Washington sees
as essential to countering terrorism after the September 11,
2001 suicide attacks on U.S. targets.

The announcement came ahead of President George W. Bush's
trip to Europe for a U.S.-EU summit in Vienna starting Tuesday.

EU Parliament deputies had raised concerns that the
transfer of passenger data breached privacy rights, but the
European Court of Justice ruled on May 30 only against the
legal framework of the two-year-old accord.

The Commission hopes it can overcome that objection by
re-basing the agreement on articles of EU law pertaining to
security and the fight against organized crime.

Such a move will mean the European Parliament no longer has
any formal say over the measure. It will have to be ratified by
member states but can take effect provisionally even before the
ratification process is complete, Frattini's spokesman said.

Washington has said it is confident the EU can overcome the
court's objections and there will be no impact on air traffic.