EU lawyers check legality of terror finance deal with US amid calls to renegotiate it

BRUSSELS – European Union lawyers are examining whether parts of a deal with the United States on tracking terrorist finances are legal amid calls to renegotiate the entire agreement, officials said Thursday.

Critics have said that some conditions within the agreement give Washington a veto over the use and publication of sensitive EU documents. The EU parliament could force a renegotiation of the terror financing agreement if any illegalities are discovered, Claude Moraes, chairman of the European parliament’s civil liberties committee, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

“We have a legal issue here, about the legality and validity” of parts of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, Moraes said.

The problem relates to EU oversight of the conditions under which the U.S. Treasury can access the SWIFT system for international bank transfers.

The agreement, which entered force in August 2010, tasks the EU’s police agency Europol with supervising on the European side the way the deal is implemented.

Acting on a complaint from a European citizen, EU Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly asked to see a Europol report on the deal but says she was denied access to it by the U.S. Treasury.

“For the first time in its 20-year history, the European ombudsman was denied its right under statute to inspect an EU institution document, even under the guarantee of full confidentiality,” O’Reilly told the committee.

Parliament lawyers are looking into this and will report back to the committee on Jan. 21.

Some lawmakers said that accepting the U.S. Treasury’s actions would amount to giving Washington a “veto right” over EU institutions and would set a bad precedent for future agreements.

“There is no such thing as unlimited and uncontrolled and uncontrollable powers,” said Dutch ALDE liberal lawmaker Sophie in’t Veld.

The European Commission, which negotiated the agreement, denied that Washington has been given any veto right.