1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Bank data row

November 26, 2009

The German government faces pressure to stand up to a US anti-terrorism law that would open up the banking information of Europeans. Opponents say it infringes data protection and criticize the timing.

A computer mouse on top of euro notes of different denominations
US investigators want to track the funding of terror groupsImage: picture-alliance / dpa / Themendienst

Germany's coalition faces further discord over plans to scrutinize European citizens' banking activities under US anti-terrorism laws.

The German Interior Ministry has opted not to block a deal in Brussels giving US authorities access to banking transfer information from the financial-service provider SWIFT, which handles around 15 million transactions between more than 8,300 banks around the world.

Allowing the agreement to go through would bring Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere of the Christian Democrats (CDU) into conflict with his coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP).

Opposition to deal

The FDP is opposed to the so-called "SWIFT agreement," which EU interior ministers will vote on on Monday.

Newspapers reports say that the German government will abstain during the vote in Brussels. If the other 26 countries vote in favor, the agreement could be in force by Tuesday.

An aerial view of the SWIFT headquarters, a classical building with lawns
Brussels-based SWIFT handles around 15 million transactions every dayImage: AP

The financial-service provider SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has its headquarters in Belgium.

Data law threat

US investigators are placing increasing importance on tracking the funding of terror groups.

American authorities want access to information on transactions carried out by private customers and companies, which has implications for European data protection laws.

Critics complain that the decision will be made one day before the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect. The treaty, which gives new powers to European institutions such as justice and home affairs, would require that the European Parliament be involved in the decision.

Both the FDP's own executive committee and the parliamentary party are against the SWIFT Agreement. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger from the FDP has been very critical of the deal.

The European Parliament sitting in session in Strasbourg
Opponents say that the European Parliament should be given a sayImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The SWIFT agreement was described as "completely unacceptable" by FDP parliamentarian Johannes Vogel in the newspaper Die Welt. He told the paper that it went without saying that there should be "a clear German 'no'."

FDP Euro MP Alexander Alvaro said on Wednesday said that he believed that the interior minister wanted to abstain and so "pave the way for the agreement."

Influence on smaller states

There is also criticism from within the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the CDU. CSU Parliamentarian Manfred Weber said that if Germany gave in, others would follow due to Germany's influence on smaller states, such as Austria.

France and Finland, along with Austria and Germany, have taken issue with any rushed approval, arguing that more time was needed to ensure proper data protection for EU citizens.

Germany's new coalition government has already had seen its unity tested over several issues, including that of carmarker Opel, with the FDP opposing any state subsidies.


Editor: Kyle James