Open Europe Blog

The controversial EU-US anti-terrorism data-sharing deal, named the Swift agreement, came under further attack yesterday as an almighty row broke out in the Commons. Labour’s very own Michael Connarty accused the government of treating Parliament with “disdain and contempt” by choosing to bypass the standard eight-week period given to the European Scrutiny Committee to examine such agreements, with Treasury Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry asked to justify the Government’s decision.

The Swift agreement allows the US authorities to access EU citizens’ bank transactions under the name of anti-terrorism. But whilst the Government claims the agreement will protect us from the threat of terrorist attacks we are left wondering, who is protecting us, the citizens, against attacks on our civil liberties?

The Lisbon Treaty was sold with the promise that it would strengthen national parliaments’ ability to scrutinse EU legislation. This is a particular concern for matters concerning justice and home affairs where the UK can decide to ‘opt in’ to a proposal or not. Let us not forget, the negotiated ‘opt in’ was used by the Government to justify its decision to abandon the promised referendum on the Treaty.

PA report that Connarty, the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said he had been assured by ministers, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, that opt-ins would be subject to proper scrutiny. Connarty said that the SWIFT agreement was the first test of the Lisbon Treaty assurance and this was a “very bad start to the new process.”

But it’s getting even worse.

In a public lecture at the LSE yesterday evening we asked Chris Bryant, the UK’s Europe Minister, to comment on the day’s debate in the Commons. And yet, to our surprise (and his), he wasn’t even aware that the Commons debate had happened, remarking:

“What on earth does this have to do with Sarah McCarthy-Fry, I don’t think this is right”. Then calling to an assistant, he asked “Did Sarah McCarthy-Fry answer a question today?”. He continued “I’m really perplexed about it because if anyone would be answering EU [questions] it should be me…I don’t know if I can say much more.”

With the Government so quick to ignore due Parliamentry process and the Minister for Europe totally unaware of what’s going on, it’s sure time to recognise that democracy has not been strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty.

Luckily enough we have the episode on the dictaphone, so click here for a listen. Chris does sound very confused…

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