U.S. President Barack Obama has today called for the European Union (EU) to implement legislation which would require airlines to share passenger data with government bodies across the political bloc, as well as with each other, in an effort to “do more to stop foreign terrorist fighters entering”.
But Mr. Obama’s rhetoric during his press conference with Francois Hollande was almost imperial in its nature. For the U.S. President to demand the European Union implements new legislation will be galling to some in Europe – especially as anti-establishment, populist right wing parties continue to grow in popularity across the continent.
Speaking today, Mr. Obama said: “Building on our recent intelligence agreement the United States will continue to quickly share threat information with France and in the wake of Paris and threats in Belgium there is also a growing recognition among the European Nations that they need to ramp up additional efforts to help prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.
“As part of that, I’m calling on the European Union to finally implement the agreement that has been long in the works that would require airlines to share passenger information so we can do more to stop foreign terrorist fighters entering our countries undetected. And I am prepared to send teams of our experts to work on this with our European partners to make sure are doubling our efforts together.”
His comments refer to the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) proposal – written by Conservative Party MEP Timothy Kirkhope, which is “a draft law that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries the data of passengers entering or leaving the EU, in order to help the authorities to fight terrorism and serious transnational crime”.
Negotiations between the European Parliament, Council, and Commission began in September of this year.
But the existing draft specifically notes: “The collection and use of sensitive data directly or indirectly revealing a person’s race or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical belief, political opinion, trade union membership, health or sexual life, would be prohibited”, calling into question how effective the system would be at identifying or catching terrorists. In fact, it may turn out that the only thing really affected by the legislation is the civil liberties of law abiding European citizens.
Mr. Obama hypocritically noted, just a few minutes later in his speech today: “Even as we’re vigilant we cannot and we will not succumb to fear… we cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.” During this portion of the speech, he made clear that he was speaking specifically to the American, not European people.
The idea that Mr. Obama should be telling Europeans to alter the way they live their lives, while insisting that Americans should not expect to have to change theirs, is not likely to be well received by those outside the pro-EU establishment.