Wednesday

29th Mar 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Interview

Let's not lecture Trump, says top German MP

Europeans need to propose "projects of common interest" to the US president to preserve "Western unity" on Russia, Norbert Röttgen, the chair of Bundestag's foreign affairs committee said.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

News in Brief

  1. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU
  2. Support for Germany's anti-EU party fading
  3. Turkish intelligence not welcome in Germany
  4. US senate approves Montenegro’s Nato bid
  5. Scottish MPs give go ahead to seek referendum
  6. Uber pulls out of Denmark over new taxi-regulation
  7. EU court validates sanctions on Russia's Rosneft
  8. Luxembourg to team up with Ireland in Apple tax appeal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  2. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  3. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  4. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  5. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  6. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  8. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  9. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  10. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  12. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans