Independence Day Comes Early This Year

For years, the European Parliament has done everything it could to catch the US Congress’s eye.  Long relegated to second-class status in Europe, the European Parliament craved the respect it hoped would come from a dialogue with its “counterpart” in Washington.

Well, congratulations, guys.  You’ve succeeded.

What did the trick was the Parliament’s role in reopening the transatlantic fight over airline reservation data. After years of negotiation and at least three separate agreements on the topic, the EU and US agreed in 2007 to a long peace, one that would last until 2014.  But the European Parliament seized on a dubious technicality to reject the peace. (The technicality: only 24 of the 27 EU members had finished their lengthy treaty approval process when the Parliament’s authority to approve new treaties took effect.)

The Parliament declared that it would only approve the deal if the EU got to regulate US law enforcement practices, saying that American “use of PNR data for law enforcement and security purposes must be in line with European data protection standards, in particular regarding purpose limitation, proportionality, legal redress, limitation of the amount of data to be collected and of the length of storage periods.”

That got Congress’s attention, because airline data has been the key to many successful operations to apprehend or thwart terrorists hoping to attack Americans at home. Even the Washington Post condemned the European Parliament’s irresponsible grandstanding.

But say what you will, those European Parliamentarians certainly know how to bring us together.  In a moment of bipartisanship, the ranking Democrats and Republicans from both House and Senate Homeland Security committees have introduced joint resolutions instructing DHS not to yield an inch in talks with Europe. (Here’s the press release.)

My favorite line in the resolution is the one where Congress “urges the Department of Homeland Security to not enter into any agreement that would impose European oversight structures on the United States.”

Actually, I thought we did that in 1776. But if it was worth doing once, it’s probably worth repeating.