Tuesday

19th Jun 2018

EU-US relations at risk after new bugging scandal

  • EU leaders meet Obama in Washington in 2011 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU politicians have questioned the future of trade talks and demanded explanations from Washington after Der Spiegel revelations that EU offices in Brussels, New York and Washington are bugged by American intelligence.

The telephone lines and computer networks of EU offices in Brussels were tapped by the American National Security Agency (NSA) under its so-called Prism surveillance programme, German daily Der Spiegel reports, based on new documents leaked by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

An NSA document from September 2010 describes Europeans as specific targets, the German magazine says.

In addition, a series of bogus phone calls to the Justus Lipsius building, which hosts the EU Council, were traced back to Nato headquarters in Brussels where NSA agents are based, indicating an attack on the EU communications security, Spiegel writes.

The German leak is the latest in a series of disclosures about Prism published over the last few weeks in British daily The Guardian and in the US paper, the Washington Post.

They show that the US government searches through the telephone calls, emails, instant messages and Facebook data of people in or outside the US by infiltrating the servers of Internet giants like Apple or Microsoft.

The British intelligence service, GCHQ, is allegedly running an even bigger surveillance programme named Tempora, which taps into transatlantic fibre-optic cables used for telephone and Internet services.

"As soon as we saw these reports, the European External Action Service made contact with the US authorities in both Washington DC and Brussels to seek urgent clarification of the veracity of, and facts surrounding, these allegations," foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

Her New York and Washington delegations send diplomatic cables classified up to the level of "Secret."

The designation covers texts which could "seriously harm" EU interests, "raise international tensions" or "threaten life" and "public order" if they get out.

For his part, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz said EU-US relations risk serious harm.

"I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations of US authorities spying on EU offices. If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations," he said in an emailed statement.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Sunday told an audience in Luxemburg that "partners do not spy on each other."

She also questioned the future of the recently-launched EU-US free trade talks.

"We cannot negotiate on a giant transatlantic market when there is even the slightest suspicion that our partners are spying the offices of the negotiators," she said.

The Greens in the European Parliament have demanded the talks be immediately suspended and resumed only after a long-delayed EU-US data protection deal has been signed.

Finnish EU affairs and trade minister Alexander Stubb is against the move, however.

"First it should be determined what has actually happened. Free trade talks largely follow their own path. Negotiations are carried out largely on the basis of openly available information," he told Finnish broadcaster Yle.

Meanwhile, the German attorney general has started its own inquiry about the legality of the US and British spy programmes.

Germany is the most spied-upon among EU countries, with some 500 million phone calls, emails and SMS-es tapped into each month by the NSA, according to the documents seen by Der Spiegel.

By comparison, France has about 2 million such communications snooped upon each month, the magazine says.

Considered by US intelligence as a "target" and a "third-class country" - a designation for a lower-ranked partner than the UK or Canada - Germany still hosts several US military bases dating from the Cold War and has had to account for the so-called Hamburg cell of Al-Qaeda operatives, which carried out 9/11.

Analysis

Trump befriends Conte, depresses EU

Most EU leaders found US president Donald Trump "depressing" at the G7, but one of them - Italy's Giuseppe Conte - made a new friend.

Opinion

Europe could lose out in North Korean bonanza

South Korean businesses including Hyundai and Samsung are already scoping investment opportunities. Will North Korea become a 'new Vietnam' opportunity - or more like Myanmar, where slow Brussels policy-making meant EU exporters lost out.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Audi CEO arrested over Dieselgate
  2. EU-Australia trade talks kick off in Brussels next month
  3. France and Germany moving closer to eurozone reform
  4. Merkel to meet Conte to find migration compromise
  5. Seehofer gives Merkel time to strike EU migration deal
  6. Schroeder and Sarkozy appear with Putin at World Cup
  7. Tennis champ and 'EU diplomat' claims immunity
  8. Italy threatens to ditch EU-Canada free trade deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  2. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. Orban to EPP: turn 'Christian democratic' or face challenge
  2. Is EU retail sector equipped for 21st century?
  3. Tear gas bodes ill for Macedonia name deal
  4. EU asylum claims drop, Germany registers most
  5. EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too
  6. Basque threat of 'second front' for independence
  7. Progressive regulation needed now for 21st century finance
  8. Greece and Merkel's fate top This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us