Biden talks up EU terrorism threat

(EU Observer) US vice-president Joe Biden has said that Europe faces “new and pernicious threats” to its security on the eve of his visit to the EU capital, a trip designed to help secure MEPs’ approval on new counter-terrorism measures.

Writing in the New York Times before arriving in Brussels on Wednesday night (5 April), he listed “the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue regimes with access to ballistic missile technology, the ongoing threat of terrorist attack enabled by havens in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of cyber-attack by criminal networks and other actors, and significant energy security challenges” as key dangers.

The Biden visit comes after the European Parliament in February used its new Lisbon Treaty powers to scupper a US-EU accord on sharing bank data to help track down terrorists.

MEPs in a non-binding resolution on Wednesday reiterated their concerns on the so-called Swift accord, saying it needs a strict definition of what constitutes “terrorism,” that the US should not be allowed to transfer data to third countries and should not have access to “bulk” loads of information.

On Thursday Joe Biden urged the European Parliament to allow terror investigators from the United States access to citizens’ bank data in Europe, promising to guarantee their privacy.

U.S. investigators say information on bank transfers is vital in pursuing people suspected of terrorist activities, but the issue has become controversial in Europe because of concern over privacy protection.

Addressing EU parliamentarians, Biden tried to persuade the lawmakers to back a new deal, likely to be reached by negotiators in the coming months.

The Biden visit is also designed to soothe EU pride after President Obama earlier this year cancelled a planned summit with the Spanish EU presidency, prompting commentary that Washington no longer sees the EU as an important power.

But a large part of the vice-president’s message in the New York Times was aimed at Russia.

Mr Biden ruled out Moscow’s idea of replacing the Nato treaty with a new trans-Atlantic security treaty.

“The threat or use of force has no place in relations among European powers. Nor can we allow large countries to have vetoes over the decisions of smaller ones. And most importantly, we cannot permit the re-establishment of spheres of influence in Europe,” he also wrote, amid references to Russia’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and Georgia’s aspiration to join Nato.

In a more conciliatory vein, he added that the OSCE, a Vienna-based pro-democracy club in which Russia is a veto power, should expand its role.

“We support the creation of an OSCE Crisis Prevention Mechanism that, in situations of tensions between OSCE states, would seek to prevent crises before they start. And in the case that they do, it would empower the organisation to offer rapid humanitarian relief, help negotiate a cease-fire, and provide impartial monitoring,” Mr Biden said.

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