Barroso: Up to member states to clarify WikiLeaks revelations

14.12.10 @ 17:44

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said it is not the task of his institution to explain revelations contained in US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, insisting that EU member states are better positioned for the role.

  • Mr Barroso conceded a similar leak could take place in the EU (Photo: European Commission)

MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (14 December) repeatedly asked Mr Barroso to outline his position on the diplomatic cables and the legal action currently being taken against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was granted bail on the same day, but the Portuguese politician fended off questions saying the issue was outside the commission's domain.

"All the leaks have really related to member states," said Mr Barroso. "It's up to them to carry out clarifications."

Several senior EU officials have been mentioned in the classified cables, providing an interesting insight into their private views, working methods and how they are seen by Washington.

One cable describes EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger as a 'lame duck' politician, sent to Brussels by German Chancellor Angela Merkel simply to get rid of him.

Another shows co-operation between EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard and the US in order to garner global support for the controversial Copenhagen climate accord brokered in December 2009.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is said to have expressed his relief at not attending the fateful meeting in Denmark. "Had I been there, my presidency would have been over before it began," he is reported to have told the US ambassador to Belgium.

In another released conversation, former external relations commissioner Chris Patten explained why the EU will never be a "real power." A cable from Russia says Prime Minister Putin saw Mr Barroso as "a glorified international civil servant not worthy to be in the Czar's [presence]."

Despite the clear references to Brussels, Mr Barroso insisted it is not a commission issue: "It's something that happened in the US ... and we have to be clear what are our competences."

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton took a similar line during a press conference on Monday. Asked if she or EU foreign ministers had discussed WikiLeaks or if she feared revelations about her self, she said "No we didn't and I don't care," AFP reported.

Julian Assange

Mr Barroso was equally tight-lipped on the current legal battle surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. "Obviously there is a presumption of innocence until the courts find otherwise," he told MEPs.

Mr Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden in a sex-crimes investigation, was granted bail by a British court on Tuesday, with the judge insisting he must abide by strict bail conditions.

The 39-year-old Australian has been held in a London prison for a week after surrendering to Scotland Yard for questioning after Sweden issued an arrest warrant.

Two women in Sweden have accused him of sexual misconduct in separate encounters, but Mr Assange denies the accusations, saying the incidents relate to "consensual but unprotected sex."

Some Assange supporters suspect the extradition request has been motivated by WikiLeaks' decision last month to begin publishing its store of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables, something Swedish officials strongly deny.

Italian Liberal MEP Sonia Alfano was among those raising doubts on Tuesday. "The only thing he did was to show certain murky areas that important powers are not comfortable with," she said.

At the same time, Mr Barroso did concede that a similar release of sensitive documents could happen in the EU. "What happened in the US we can't help thinking could happen in any system," he said. "Its true that in the US system hundreds of thousands of people seem to have access to information," he added.

A self-funded group of former EU officials, journalists and and NGO workers based in Belgium has recently set up an EU version of WikiLeaks to facilitate the spread of EU documents to civil society.

The secure system currently used by EU diplomats to exchange information, Coreu, has "better safeguards" than the US however, one EU diplomatic source said.