Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

SWIFT

Delivered in Plenary - 21st April 2010

Mr President

The ECR Group supported the Council’s original agreement on SWIFT with the United States and its terrorist-financed tracking programme for the transfer of financial messaging data, subject of course to certain safeguards. We repudiated at the time the anti-Americanism, both latent and overt, that characterises some in this House.

America bears a vastly disproportionate burden worldwide for securing the liberty of us all. We want to see the EU doing more, not less, to support America’s principled leadership in the fight against terrorism. We therefore saw the SWIFT agreement as a vital tool to help excise the cancer of terrorist financing and to protect citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. However, whilst I was saddened to see the deal voted down, I was not altogether surprised.

Undoubtedly, Parliament was flexing its muscles and keen to make a show of its new powers under the Lisbon Treaty, but the temporary demise of the SWIFT accord until the better current proposal was forthcoming from the Commission could perhaps ultimately be for the good, to serve as a wake-up call to President Obama’s Administration which, like its predecessors, appears to have a very sketchy grasp of the EU and its institutions, notably Parliament.

There seems to be little appreciation amongst American diplomats of the increased powers and influence of MEPs. The letter sent by Secretary Clinton to President Buzek, raising concerns regarding SWIFT, was woefully late in the day. Moreover, it was considered by many Members of this House as at best naive, and at worst arrogant, because it ignored the reality of how our Parliament operates through the political groups.

The United States maintains an almost invisible lobbying presence in the Parliament. Compare that to small countries like Israel, Taiwan and Colombia, not to mention giants like India and China, which invest substantial diplomatic resources in building relationships in this House. As a result, they punch above their weight diplomatically at EU level, whereas America falls woefully short of its potential. It is extraordinary that the USA’s bilateral embassy to Belgium is still double the size of its mission to the European Union.

I am, however, heartened that the new American Ambassador to the EU, William Kennard, seems to appreciate MEPs’ importance, and this is now being conveyed back to Washington. I hope that his time in Brussels coincides with a quantum leap in terms of America’s relationship with us MEPs, and the announced visit by Vice-President Biden is an excellent start, because no one wants to see the transatlantic partnership strengthened more than I do.

The next hurdle, of course, will be getting a new agreement on SWIFT through this House, but also one on passenger name records (PNR), which in my view will prove no less controversial.