EU Seeks Renegotiation of Passenger Data Deal With U.S.

The European Commission said Monday it hopes to get early backing from European Union governments for plans to renegotiate an airline passenger data deal with the United States which was ruled illegal by the EU's top court last month.

Commission spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said the European Union's executive body would ask EU governments to formally overturn the agreement by July 3 and approve a mandate to negotiate a new deal by Oct. 1.

He was hopeful the deal would not need a major renegotiation, since the court's decision concerned the legal basis of the agreement rather than its content.

The agreement, negotiated in 2004, gives U.S. authorities the right to trawl through 34 pieces of information about airline passengers heading to the United States, including name, address and credit card details. EU and U.S. officials say the information is only used to fight terrorism and other serious crimes.

"We are all committed that there is a new deal on passenger data by Oct. 1, 2006, which is when the current deal expires formally," Roscam Abbing told reporters. "This is very crucial to avoid any distortion of trans-Atlantic flights."

If the deal is not amended by Sept. 30, airlines may have to change the way they collect and transfer data. Washington has warned that without the agreement, airlines failing to pass on passenger information face fines of up to US$6,000 per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

Roscam Abbing said the Commission would rework the deal under articles of the EU's founding treaty dealing with cooperation in security and crime-fighting.

The existing agreement was based on clauses used to guarantee fair competition in the European market, since EU lawyers argued the absence of a security deal with the United States would have led to individual nations making their own agreements — favoring their airlines over competitors from other EU nations. The European Court of Justice rejected that argument.

Using the security clauses could make it easier to conclude the deal, since it would not need formal approval from the European Parliament.