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Are US-EU relations on the rocks?

The European Parliament resoundingly rejects a US counterterrorism program.

Netherland's Member of the European Parliament Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, right, is applauded by her colleagues after the parliament, seated in Strasbourg, France, voted to follow her recommendation against the EU-U.S. interim agreement on the transfer of banking data to the U.S. authorities from the SWIFT system on Feb. 11, 2010. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — It’s not the best of times; it’s not the worst of times.

But it’s surely not the kind of times Brussels and Washington anticipated when Barack Obama took over the White House.

The European Parliament Thursday handed the United States a resounding rejection of a provisional agreement on sharing banking information in the pursuit of terrorists, also known as the SWIFT agreement.

The 378-196 rejection is the most public evidence of transatlantic discord as the European Union scrutinizes U.S. security policy, with particular attention to the price paid in privacy as counterterrorism efforts grow.

For their part, EU leaders are smarting from what was widely perceived a “snub” by Obama — “L'Europe snobee” read Le Monde’s headline — when he decided to skip a head-of-state summit the current Spanish presidency planned for May.

While U.S. conservatives were quick to point out that former President George W. Bush never missed a U.S.-EU summit, some observers said Obama thought the EU summits were unproductive and the leadership structure too messy since the Lisbon Treaty added a “president” to the bloc’s bureaucracy.

“It’s not a high moment in U.S.-EU relations,” said Cristina Gallach, the spokeswoman for the Spanish government in its six-month stint in the rotating presidency. Gallach, speaking prior to Thursday’s vote, previously worked as spokeswoman and close adviser to Javier Solana during his 10-year tenure as the European Union’s foreign policy chief and as NATO Secretary General before that.

The Department of Treasury, which oversees the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), declined to comment when contacted by Global Post, but the U.S. Embassy to the European Union put out a statement making clear the government’s dismay at the result. The U.S., including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had lobbied hard for TFTP’s passage.

“This outcome is a setback for U.S.-EU counterterror cooperation,” the statement said. “This decision disrupts an important counterterrorism program which has resulted in more than 1,500 reports and numerous leads to European governmental authorities and has contributed significantly to collaborative counterterrorism efforts between the United States and Europe.”

The U.S. was joined in its disappointment by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which negotiated this interim agreement on behalf of the EU. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who has expressed skepticism about the width and breadth of the SWIFT parameters, nonetheless underscored that “EU-U.S. relations are critical for the freedom and security of our citizens” and said therefore she would work toward forging a data-sharing accord that could pass the EP’s muster as negotiations on a long-term agreement continue.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/european-union/100211/european-parliament-swift-counterterrorism