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24 May, 2024
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PEGA's amendment games

A draft bill being discussed today calls for the release of the Black Van Report and an investigation into allegations of wiretapping

by George Kakouris

The debate on Cyprus will turn into a game of balances and... amendments in relation to the draft report of the European Parliament's Committee of Inquiry into Surveillance Software (PEGA), but even more so in relation to the draft recommendations to the Council and the Commission, which begins on Tuesday morning in Brussels.

'despite the government's insistence, (Cyprus) is an "important European export hub for the surveillance industry and an attractive location for companies selling surveillance technologies,'

If the draft recommendations are adopted in their current form in the coming weeks, Parliament will call on the Cypriot government to make public the Stefanos investigation into the black van case, to fully investigate the journalists' allegations of spying with the assistance of Europol, and to thoroughly examine any export licenses for spy software that have been issued. According to the draft recommendations, Cyprus "may have committed breaches and maladministration" in the application of Community law.

This document is unique in that it is not simply a report by PEGA, but rather recommendations to the Council and Commission that the Plenary will be asked to adopt in June. It is essentially an expansion of the second part of the draft report presented in November by rapporteur Sophia in 't Veld (Liberals, Netherlands), which was split into two parts for procedural reasons (findings and recommendations) due to its size, though K interlocutors interpret this decision as an attempt to downplay the findings.

Ms. in 't Veld will present and discuss the draft recommendations for the first time on Tuesday 24/1, and they include recommendations for all Member States mentioned in the draft report. MEPs have until January 26 to table amendments to the draft report (which was discussed in December) and until February 9 to table draft recommendations, for which members of the European People's Party (which includes one of the governments under scrutiny, Greece, and the Cypriot government) are already working hard.

The PEGA will then be asked to vote on both texts on 26/4, and the text of the recommendations will be referred for adoption before the Plenary in June when the Committee of Inquiry's mandate will be completed following the conclusion of the investigation after its 3-month extension.

Strong recommendations

With regard to Cyprus, the draft calls on the European Parliament to adopt the "conclusion that Cyprus may have committed breaches and maladministration in the application of Union law".

The draft also suggests that the Parliament should ask the Cypriot government to:

- "thoroughly evaluate all export licenses issued for spyware and revoke them where appropriate",
- 'publish the report of the Special Investigator on the "spy van" case; and
- 'fully investigate, with the assistance of Europol, all allegations of illegal use of spyware, in particular in relation to journalists, lawyers and civil society actors'.

Recall that the November draft report states that NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, has no presence in Cyprus but six of its board members have established or acquired businesses in the country.

Recall that the November draft report states that NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, has no presence in Cyprus but six of its board members have established or acquired businesses in the country.

They are working on amendments

In the near future, one of the political groups' front lines will be the portion of the recommendations pertaining to Cyprus. According to "K," the center-right European People's Party believes that the recommendations for the nation are unfair because they do not take into account the findings or the responses from the Cypriot government (which insists that no exports were made). Amendments are expected to be tabled by EPP MEPs to PEGA, as well as by DISY MEP Loukas Fourlas, who is not a member but is entitled to propose amendments.

The disagreements appear to center on claims that Cyprus, despite the government's insistence that no export permits have been issued, is an "important European export hub for the surveillance industry and an attractive location for companies selling surveillance technologies," as well as references to "infringements or maladministration" in the application of the acquis communautaire in relation to such software in Poland, Hungary, Greece, Spain, and Cyprus.

The recommendations also take into account the fact that Cyprus is the only member of the EU that does not take part in the Wassenaar Arrangement for the control of conventional weapons and goods and technologies with dual uses. This absence is attributed by the Cypriot government to Turkey's veto.

Balances and "De-skilling"

According to George Georgiou, a PEGA vice president and AKEL MEP who represents the Left group, the EPP's anticipated amendments are perceived by many as an effort to "skim the content."

Georgiou stated that the reactions recorded by MEPs of the committee of inquiry in November, during the delegation's visit to Greece and immediately following the presentation of the draft report by the rapporteur, were also signs of the EPP's "enormous effort," as he put it.

Questions remain about the Socialist Group's reaction to the amendments, given that it is the second-strongest group in the committee (as well as in the plenary) after the EPP (which includes the committee's chairman, Jörun Lennaers). The question is whether there will be an attempt to get amendments regarding Spain (the only country under the microscope with a Socialist-affiliated government) or whether the group will keep a low profile due to the involvement of its members in Qatargate.

This will be crucial for the future of many of the amendments, as the Liberals, Greens, and Left all support the rapporteur.

The bottom line is that the report's findings are still on the public debate agenda (even if the report is still a PEGA document), and any recommendations will end up as formal recommendations from the full Parliament, which appears to be Sophia in 't Veld's strategy.

The goal is to put public pressure on the Member States to legislate on the market for surveillance software, despite legal objections from the Member States, through a letter from the Council to PEGA stating that the matter is not for Parliament.

External relations

Meanwhile, the impact of surveillance software use and distribution on the EU's external relations was the subject of a study conducted at the request of Parliament, a draft of which was presented to PEGA on Thursday by Richard Young, Professor of International Relations at Warwick University and Carnegie Europe Research Fellow.

The study examines the increasing use of new and emerging technologies for surveillance and control purposes, particularly for commercially available surveillance products (such as Pegasus), and emphasizes that the EU should prioritize addressing them.

Reference is made to Cyprus in the section on the need to regulate the trade in surveillance software, as it was noted that after "there were suspicions that corporate entities associated with the NSO in Cyprus and Bulgaria had re-exported Pegasus, the EU focused its attention" on the need for these products to be sold with due regard for human rights. "So far, however, the EU has not taken concrete steps regarding spyware in the context of the conditions governing licensing decisions," it added.

[This article was translated from its Greek original] 

Cyprus  |  PEGA  |  spyware

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