Secretary Napolitano is doing a lightning tour of Europe, trying to build on the sense of urgency about air screening since the Christmas attack. Her tour has already produced one of the few DHS blog entries with a human touch, as DAS Koumans conveys a sense of the glamour and leisure that come with DHS international travel:
So, we took off at 6 PM from Washington, D.C., got two or three hours of sleep on the flight as the Secretary spent most of her time preparing for the next day’s meetings, and landed at 6:45 AM local time in Spain. ... We had only had 10 minutes before we began our first event. Here's hoping no one noticed we went to our first two bilateral meetings in the clothes we slept in!
The Secretary seems to have focused European attention by asking for wider deployment of whole body imaging machines, which has made Europeans realize that there may be more serious privacy issues than letting government officials see travel reservation data -- information that is already shown to airline workers on two continents:
"A good PNR system may be, at least, as efficient" as the scanners, said the Secretay's EU counterpart. So the EU, US, and European interior ministers agreed on a work program that would consider "what and how operational cooperation sharing [of PNR] could be further improved and compatible approaches could be developed among partners committed to aviation security, the rule of law, and international humans rights."
Of course putting this in a US-EU context is fraught with opportunities for delay and mischief. The EU still has no serious responsibility for actually stopping terrorists. At best, it grades the work of the member state agencies that actually look for terrorists. At worst, it finds reasons to get in their way. (Hints of that can be seen at the end of the statement above, which translates as, "Oh my goodness. We can't say anything nice about aviation security -- especially in a statement adopted with the United States -- unless we give more than equal time to the rule of law and international human rights!")
So, whether the EU can overcome its genes and actually improve security cooperation remains to be seen. If the European Parliament follows past practice, you wouldn't give high odds:
"It will be very difficult for the European Council to get a majority in parliament for this proposal," Manfred Weber, deputy head of the Christian Democratic faction of the European Parliament, was quoted as saying.
Justice spokesman for the Green party faction, Jan Philipp Albrecht, accused EU domestic commissioner Jacques Barrot and the European Council of creating facts for their own purposes. Albrecht said that the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force at the beginning of December, empowered the European Parliament to full participation in decision-making on internal affairs, with the power to block legislation.
Actually, though, I'm betting the other way. I think MEPs like Weber and Albrecht are going to eat their words.
The Lisbon Treaty means the Parliament can't sit on the sidelines carping any more. They actually have the power to kill new security measures. But that means they'll have to take responsibility for killing them.
Carping while the security measures took effect without Parliament's approval was good politics. But actually killing security measures in Parliament will turn out to be very bad politics. After all, a lot of Europeans would have died on flight 253 if the bomber had succeeded. Do Weber and Albrecht expect to be bragging after the next attack that they blocked measures that might have stopped it?
No, my guess is that in the end this could turn out to be a useful exercise in sobering up the European Parliament.