On the first day of the EU summit yesterday (24 October) German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the United States strike a "no-spying" agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington's closest EU allies had to be stopped.
Speaking after talks with EU leaders, Chancellor Merkel said she wanted action from President Barack Obama, not just apologetic words following revelations that the US National Security Agency had accessed tens of thousands of French phone records and monitored Merkel's private mobile phone.
Germany and France will seek a "mutual understanding" with the United States on cooperation between their intelligence agencies, and other EU member states could eventually take part.
"That means a framework for cooperation between the relevant (intelligence) services. Germany and France have taken the initiative and other member states will join," she said.
French President François Hollande expressed his concerns that companies were also spied.
“The problem is not which leader has been spied on, but it is the extent of this network. Because it doesn’t only concern heads of state, but also companies and citizens. So it goes much further than just relations between states and leaders, It is a major problem”, he said.
In a statement issued after the first day of the summit, the EU's 28 leaders said they supported the Franco-German plan.
Merkel first raised the possibility of a "no-spying" agreement with Obama during a visit to Berlin in June this year, but nothing came of it. The latest revelations, part of the vast leaks made by former US data analyst Edward Snowden, would appear to have renewed her determination for a pact.
The United States has a "no-spying" deal with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, an alliance known as "Five Eyes" that was struck in the aftermath of World War Two.
But there has traditionally been a reluctance to make similar arrangements with other allies, despite the close relations that the United States and Germany now enjoy.
Merkel said an accord with Washington was long overdue, given the shared experiences the countries face.
"We are in Afghanistan together. Our soldiers experience life threatening situations. They sometimes die in the same battles," she said.
"The friendship and partnership between the European member states, including Germany, and the United States is not a one-way street. We depend on it. But there are good reasons that the United States also needs friends in the world."
As EU leaders arrived for the two-day summit there was near-universal condemnation of the alleged activities by the NSA, particularly the monitoring of Merkel's mobile phone, a sensitive issue for a woman who grew up in East Germany, living under the Stasi police force and its feared eavesdropping.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso appeared to liken NSA to the Stasi. He said that Merkel, who spent part of her life in a country where a political police that was spying on people's lives every day, knew “what totalitarianism means”.
Some senior German officials, and the German president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, have called for talks between the EU and United States on a free-trade agreement, which began in July, to be suspended because of the spying allegations.
Merkel, whose country is one of the world's leading exporters and stands to gain from any trade deal with Washington, said that was not the right path to take, saying the best way forward was to rebuild trust.
The series of Snowden-based leaks over the past three months have left Washington at odds with a host of important allies, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia, and there are few signs that the revelations are going to dry up anytime soon.
Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday that one NSA contact, a U.S. official, had provided the telephone numbers of 35 world leaders that had then been monitored.
As well as raising questions about the EU-US trade negotiations, the spying furore could also have an impact on data-privacy legislation working its way through the EU.
The European Parliament this week backed legislation, proposed by the European Commission in early 2012, that would greatly toughen EU data protection rules dating from 1995.
The new rules would restrict how data collected in Europe by firms such as Google and Facebook is shared with non-EU countries, introduce the right of EU citizens to request that their digital traces be erased, and impose fines of €100 million ($138 million) or more on rule breakers.
The United States is concerned the regulations, if they enter into law, will raise the cost of handling data in Europe. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others have lobbied hard against the proposals.
Given the spying accusations, France and Germany – the two most influential countries in EU policy – may succeed in getting member states to push ahead on negotiations with the parliament to complete the new data regulations by 2015.
For the United States, it could substantially change how data privacy rules are implemented globally.
Council President Herman Van Rompuy stated following the first session of the European Council
"Alongside our foreseen work, we had a discussion tonight about recent developments concerning possible intelligence issues and the deep concerns that these events have raised among European citizens.
The Heads of State or government underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership. They expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services.
They stressed that intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism.
This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the USA.
A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.
The Heads of State or government took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the USA with the aim of finding before the end of the year an understanding on mutual relations in that field. They noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative.
They also pointed to the existing Working Group between the EU and the USA on the related issue of data protection and called for rapid and constructive progress in that respect."
In his speech to the Council, the European Parliament President Martin Schulz stated:
“The NSA scandal was a wake-up call. Now that there is evidence that EU embassies, European parliaments, European heads of government and citizens have been spied on by the USA on a grand scale, the European Parliament has called for the suspension of the TFTP Agreement. We are calling for the exchange of bank data with the Americans to be temporarily suspended. The European Parliament will also safeguard the interests and fundamental rights of EU citizens at the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
We must ensure that our citizens’ fundamental rights are protected on the internet too – by ensuring that companies from the USA and other countries which offer services in the EU are subject to our rules, but also by going down new paths: as Europeans we must act with determination and promote standards and procedures which promote our values.”
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta commented at the summit on the report in L’Espresso that British and American intelligence agencies had both monitored Italians’ phone calls and e-mails.
“It is inconceivable and unacceptable that there should be acts of espionage of this type,” he said.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the US authorities had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data.
Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that a US intelligence agency had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data, saying such activity confirmed their fears about the reach of the government and American web giants and showed that tighter regulations were needed just as the EU and US are launching landmark trade talks.
Snowden is living in Russia under temporary political asylum and is considered a fugitive from justice by American authorities.
- Council of the EU: Remarks by President Herman Van Rompuy following the first session of the European Council
- Council of the EU: Conclusions and Statements of Heads of State and Government
- European Parliament, The President: Speech to the European Council by Martin Schulz
- The Guardian: NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts
- L’Espresso: Così ci spiano Usa e Gran Bretagna
- Euronews: Words not enough, Berlin and Paris want ‘no spy’ deal with Washington
- EURACTIV Turkey: Almanya ve Fransa, ABD ile 'casuslu?u engelleme' anla?mas? istiyor
- EURACTIV France Le couple franco-allemand fait front face à l'espionnage des États-Unis