European Parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg (AFP Photo)
The president of the European parliament has demanded an explanation from US authorities over the latest revelation that EU diplomatic missions in Washington, New York and Brussels were under electronic surveillance from the NSA.
“I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations of US authorities spying on EU offices,” said the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations.”
“On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the US authorities with regard to these allegations,” he added.
EU commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, said the Union has contacted the US authorities in Washington and Brussels about a report in Der Spiegel magazine.
“We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington DC and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports,” she said in a statement. “They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us.”
“Partners do not spy on each other,”Reding, suggesting that talks for a free trade agreement between the EU and the US should be halted until Washington provides explanations.
“We cannot negotiate over a big transatlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators,” she said.
Reding’s stance was backed by the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee head, Elmar Brok.
“The spying has taken on dimensions that I would never have thought possible from a democratic state,” he told Der Spiegel. “How should we still negotiate if we must fear that our negotiating position is being listened to beforehand?”
Germany and France want answers
Meanwhile, Germany’s justice minister also called for an immediate explanation from the United States saying the news that Washington bugged European Union offices was “reminiscent of the Cold War.”
“It must ultimately be immediately and extensively explained by the American side whether media reports about completely disproportionate tapping measures by the US in the EU are accurate or not,” Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement.
It was also revealed on Sunday that the extent of NSA’s spying on Germany was bigger that previously thought as the US combed through half a billion German phone calls, emails and text messages every month.
France also wants Washington to clarify their intentions after the news that the NSA put EU offices under electronic surveillance.
“France has today asked the American authorities for an explanation,” Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, said in a statement. “These acts, if confirmed, would be completely unacceptable.”
“We expect the American authorities to answer the legitimate concerns raised by these press revelations as quickly as possible,” he added.
A spokesman for the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence had no comment on the Der Spiegel story, Reuters reported.
Der Spiegel, quoting from a September 2010 “top secret” US National Security Agency (NSA) document leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, reported on Saturday the NSA was eavesdropping on the EU’s internal computer networks in Washington, as well as at the 28-member bloc UN office in New York.
The German magazine also reported that five years ago, the NSA also targeted telecommunications at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, home to the European Council, where all EU member states have their offices.
Snowden, 30, fled the US for Hong Kong in May, just weeks before The Guardian and Washington Post published details he provided about a top-secret US government surveillance program that accumulated internet and telephone traffic both at home and abroad.
The whistleblower is presently in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where it is believed he is attempting to gain political asylum in Ecuador.
Lode Vanoost, former deputy speaker of the Belgian parliament, believes that the main purpose of the US surveillance program was “economic spying” on the EU.
“At the moment, the EU is negotiating a new free trade agreement with the United States,” the former deputy speaker noted. “Well, [now the US can gather] what their opponent is already discussing internally of strategy. That is one of the possibilities.”
Vanoost also believes that part of the reason for the spying was due to the decline in US economic strength.
“On the economic level, [the US] is losing ground everywhere,” he said. “Look at what the BRIC countries are doing. The EU is having stronger ties with Russia, with Africa, with Latin America. And the US doesn’t seem to get its economic priorities imposed as it used to. So what I see is a big risk for economic spying.”
He added that there is “too much at stake” for there to be a total breakdown in US-EU bilateral relations, however, “behind closed doors there will be some very tough words” exchanged between EU and American officials.