- Key negotiator expects data transfers for intra-EU flights
- U.K.'s Timothy Kirkhope seeks to wrap up talks by year-end
The European Union will probably broaden a plan for airlines to give national governments in Europe information on passengers because of heightened terrorism concerns following this month’s attacks in Paris, said a leading EU lawmaker.
Timothy Kirkhope, a U.K. member of the European Parliament, predicted the draft law would cover flights within the EU rather than only air travel to and from the 28-nation bloc as a response to the Nov. 13 killing of 130 people in Paris by jihadists armed with automatic weapons and suicide belts. The planned measure relates to the “passenger name record,” including seat number, reservation date, payment method and travel itinerary.
“Paris has affected people’s thinking,” Kirkhope, who is steering the draft legislation through the 751-seat EU Parliament, said in an interview on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France. “Including intra-EU flights has become a rather more important consideration.”
The EU’s PNR initiative, in the works since 2011, is getting its second boost this year as a result of deadly terrorist assaults in France. After January attacks in Paris in which radical Islamist gunmen killed 17 people, the EU Parliament revived the draft rules that it had blocked since 2013 over concerns about data protection and pledged to try to complete work on the proposal by year-end.
The Europe-wide PNR program would resemble a U.S. system established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The draft European law needs the support of the EU Parliament and member-state governments.
Last week, national governments in Europe reversed their earlier position by demanding that intra-EU flights be included. The European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, is also now in favor of the broader scope. When unveiling the draft law in February 2011, the commission cited extra costs as a reason for excluding intra-EU air travel because the number of passengers on such routes is three times bigger than the number of travelers on flights to and from the bloc.
Kirkhope, who has recommended including intra-EU flights since the start, said on Wednesday that some voices in the Parliament still think that would be a “step too far.” He said the resistance has been reduced to “certain smaller groups of individuals” and a final compromise being sought in the coming weeks may settle for the wider scope along with a clause to review the legislation after several years.
“My view is that we will end up with something which allows a thorough review of the whole set of proposals,” said Kirkhope, a British Tory who belongs to the EU Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists Group. His faction is the third-biggest, behind the No. 1 Christian Democrats and No. 2 Socialists.
A European PNR system that excludes intra-EU flights would have significant holes, not least because in some member countries such as Estonia the vast majority of airline routes are within Europe, he said.
“If we don’t have it, then we allow gaps in the system,” Kirkhope said.
He said airlines in Europe have resisted the planned EU PNR system and called their stance short-sighted because the lack of a single European rule book would give rise to different national programs.
“Airlines are just concerned with the bottom line,” Kirkhope said. “But they’ve got it wrong. The bottom line to an airline is going to be much more favorable if we have an EU system covering all the countries.”
A spokesman for the Brussels-based Association of European Airlines wasn’t immediately reachable to comment about its position on the draft law.
Other forms of transport might eventually be added to any European PNR system given the greater threats of terrorism, according to Kirkhope.
“It’s something which I suspect might well come up in due course,” he said. “Which of course would mean from the traveling public’s point of view a certain narrowing of their freedoms. The circumstances around us have changed a lot of things.”