France plays down German spying accusations

François Hollande [Matthieu Riegler/Flickr]

Paris opted for discretion to try and deflect criticism from France’s new Intelligence Bill, ahead of the law’s adoption in parliament on Tuesday (5 May). EURACTIV France reports

The revelations published by Der Spiegel, of suspected espionage against the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Commission and various businesses by the German BND agency, in collaboration with the NSA, have deeply worried defenders of legal rights and businesses alike.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tried to keep a low profile on the subject, not wishing to cause any controversy in the run-up to the parliament’s vote on the Intelligence Bill on Tuesday (5 May). A ministry spokesperson said “there is nothing new in these revelations”, and added that Paris was in close contact with Berlin.

In 2013, a huge scandal erupted over the idea that the Americans were listening in on European conversations. Today, opposition is much less vocal.

France deflects attention from Intelligence Bill

The French Parliament on Tuesday adopted the highly contentious bill to strengthen the country’s intelligence services by a large majority of 438 to 86, with 42 abstentions.

>> Read: French surveillance legislation is off to a bad start

Hotly debated in early April, the bill mobilised activists and led to several demonstrations in front of the National Assembly building in Paris. The European institutions also weighed in on the discussion with questions of their own, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voiced its opposition to the use of mass surveillance as a tool in the fight against crime and terrorism.

French Member of Parliament Thierry Solère and MEP Philippe Juvin, both from the right wing opposition party UMP, announced on Monday that they had referred the French bill to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, for “violation” of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The bill passed through the parliament’s lower house with a healthy majority in spite of opposition from the Greens, the extreme left and some MPs from the slim Socialist majority, as well as civil society groups like Amnesty International.

By accelerating the legislative procedure, the government hopes to have the legislation ratified and in force by summer. It will be examined by the Senate in June.

A French-German initiative was launched during the European Council of 24-25 October 2013, to create a framework for intelligence cooperation between the United States and EU member states. Its success has clearly been limited.

Five MEPs from the ALDE goup, Nathalie Griesbeck, Sophie in ‘t Veld, Cecilia Wikström, Filiz Hyusmenova and Louis Michel have addressed a letter and a written question to the Commission, asking them to clarify whether the Intelligence Bill conforms to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

"The intelligence services work to ensure the safety of the population, and the German government will do everything it can to guarantee that they can carry out this task effectively," Angela Merkel said.

Geneviève Garrigos, president of Amnesty International France, said “the parliament’s approval of the Intelligence Bill marks a sad day in the history of individual liberties in France. This bill aims to legalise the massive intrusion of the state services into our private lives, with no control system worthy of its name”.

The surveillance practices introduced by this bill go against the principles of proportionality and legality that should frame any restriction of individual liberties. To be legal, all surveillance must be targeted, based on reasonable suspicion and subject to judicial oversight. If this bill is definitively adopted, France would clearly be breaking its international commitments.

Olivia Polski, national secretary for public security and Eduardo Rihan Cypel, national secretary for defence, issued a press release saying “this bill above all rectifies the weaknesses of existing legislation and provides a legal framework for intelligence. With the most recent law in this field dating back to 1991, this adaptation of our intelligence tools to the new geostrategic challenges and new technologies was necessary.

The Socialist Party welcomes the actions of the government, as it preserves public and individual freedoms in the constant struggle against all kinds of threats.

Nathalie Griesbeck, a French MEP in the ALDE group and a member of the Civil Liberties Committee, said "I am extremely worried about the bill adopted [on Tuesday] by the French National Assembly, because several of the measures contravene the fundamental principles of the rule of law and democracy! Though we must show determination to fight terrorism and protect the security of European citizens, and though a reform of the French intelligence services and their activities was important and necessary, this cannot be achieved by disregarding our fundamental principles!"

French National Assembly

Human Rights Defender

Amnesty International

ALDE group

European Commission

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