US and EU officials were hoping yesterday to avoid a legal vacuum threatening to disrupt transatlantic travel after failing to reach agreement on the transfer of airline passenger data before a court deadline passed.
European negotiators flew out of Washington on Saturday after the US side introduced fresh requirements which were not within their mandate to accept, EU sources said.
However transatlantic airlines continued yesterday to hand over the information required by the US authorities, regardless of any legal vacuum, according to airline spokesmen.
Both the US and EU sides stressed that they were close to an agreement and that discussions would continue this week, with EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini and US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff likely to speak by telephone yesterday.
"There is no deal. It's a shame because we are 90 percent there," EU spokesman Jonathan Todd told reporters in Brussels yesterday. "The EU team has flown out of Washington but talks will continue this week."
Finnish EU presidency spokesman Marko Ruonala echoed that "we are close to a deal" but added that "some new elements" introduced in the talks had hampered completion of an agreement.
"The presidency will consult other member states and negotiators will come back to the issue" later this week, he added, without specifying a timetable.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will also take up the matter.
A spokesman for transatlantic carrier Air France assured that the lack of an agreement had had "no impact on Air France flights to the United States."
"In the absence of an agreement by September 30, and like all the other airlines, we are continuing to transmit the passenger data," he said.
Asked about the possible illegality of doing so he voiced the safety in numbers principle.
"It's what all the other airline companies are doing," he said.
Chertoff remained upbeat, saying that the US side had sent an initial draft to their European counterparts which he believed fulfilled their fundamental data protection requirements.
"I am pleased to announce that following our negotiations with representatives of the European Union, I have initialed a draft formal US/EU agreement regarding the sharing of Passenger Name Record data," Chertoff said in a statement from Washington on Saturday.
"We expect that planes will continue to fly uninterrupted and our national security will not be impeded," he added.
"The proposal ensures the appropriate security information will be exchanged and counter-terrorism information collected by the department will be shared, as necessary with other federal counter-terrorism agencies," he said.