22nd Mar 2023

MEPs probing spyware 'stonewalled' by EU states

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MEPs probing spyware are set to visit Spain next week amid brewing resentment with member states and the European Commission.

"I sincerely hope that we can count on full cooperation with the Spanish authorities, unlike what we received in our previous missions," Belgian Green MEP Saskia Bricmont said on Thursday (16 March).

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The comment comes as frustration continues to mount among MEPs sitting on the Pega committee, set up in the wake of a wiretapping scandal, which saw Israeli spyware Pegasus being used to target opposition politicians, lawyers, prosecutors, journalists and others.

But the committee has been flat-out stonewalled by a number of EU states. National authorities in Poland and Hungary refused to even meet them, for instance.

The frustration spilled out on the plenary floor in Strasbourg earlier this week when the committee's chair, Dutch centre-right MEP Jeroen Lenaers, accused both the commission and member states of delaying tactics and obfuscation.

The European Commission says it has no competence in national security matters and that individuals should seek justice at the court.

But Lenaers pointed out that the commission is taking Poland to task over the lack of its judicial independence, while at the same time, telling "Polish victims of Pegasus to turn to the same judicial system to get justice."

"It doesn't make sense," he said.

He said the commission has failed to take the threat posed by spyware seriously and is not sticking to its duties as guardian of the treaty.

Austrian socialist MEP Hannes Heide, who also sits on the committee, said Hungary accused them of being financed by US-based philanthropist George Soros.

Similar comments were made by Dutch liberal Sophie In't Veld, who is the MEP drafting the committee's final report.

"They are all complicit and guilty of defending a very sick system," she said of the commission and the Council, representing member states.

"Not only do they refuse to cooperate, they're actually actively seeking to silence the European Parliament," she said.

In't Veld said the commission knows that EU states are breaking the rules but still refuses to launch any infringements despite gross violations of fundamental rights.

She said EU legislation, such as export rules or the privacy regulation, could be used as a basis to take EU states to court. "The commission stubbornly works on the pretence of compliance," she said.

The committee says questionnaires sent EU states eight months have gone unanswered. Those questions dealt with legislation governing the use of spyware, its authorisation and supervision.

The committee has also received no information from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Malta and The Netherlands.

For its part, the European commission says it does cooperate with the committee.

It also says that surveillance in criminal investigations must respect procedural rights.

"It is for member states alone to define their national security interests," said EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

"This does not mean that they can merely refer to national security to exclude the application of EU law," she said.

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