Paris, Berlin and Brussels on Monday (1 July) denounced the alleged bugging of EU offices by the US as “unacceptable” and reminiscent of the Cold War, warning that if the media stories prove true, transatlantic trade talks will not continue.
The turmoil in EU-US relations comes after German magazine Der Spiegel got access to some of the documents leaked by US whistleblower and former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who wanted the public to know about the scale of a US secret surveillance programme called Prism.
Der Spiegel reported that the US had bugged the networks of the EU headquarters in Brussels where leaders and ministers meet, as well as the EU’s office in Washington and New York.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies. We ask for this to stop immediately,” French President Francois Hollande said during a visit in the northwestern French town of Lorient.
Hollande had spoken over the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her spokesman said on Monday in Berlin.
The spokesman added that: “If the allegations prove true, there will be a very clear European reaction.”
He indicated that EU-US free trade talks, launched just two weeks ago during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Northern Ireland and Germany, cannot take place until “trust is restored.”
“We are surprised and disconcerted to find out about these press reports. If they are confirmed, we can say that it is unacceptable to spy on friends, this does not work, we are not in the Cold War any more,” the spokesman noted.
For its part, the German attorney general has launched an inquiry which could end up in a criminal investigation into state espionage or actions undermining the democratic order in Germany.
The German government is double-checking its secured communications networks.
Officials from the German interior, justice and foreign ministries also held a videoconference on Monday afternoon with their counterparts in the UK to ask them about the British surveillance programme Tempora, also revealed by Snowden’s leaks to the media.
“We get some five attacks per day, not related to this particular case,” a spokesman for the interior ministry said.
According to Der Spiegel, the US National Security Agency (NSA) only refrains from spying on the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. All other countries – including Germany and France – are considered “targets” that can be spied upon.
Meanwhile, the European Commission on Monday said it has asked for clarifications from the US on the “disturbing news.”
It added that it has ordered its offices in the US and Brussels to be swept for bugs.
Meanwhile, US foreign minister John Kerry sought to downplay the importance of the bugging scandal and said such practices were “not unusual.”
“I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs, of national security, undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that,” he said during a visit to Brunei.
He confirmed that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton contacted him on Monday asking for information and that he promised to “get back to her” once he finds out more.