27th Jan 2021

EU capitals call on US to stop 'unacceptable' spying

  • Anti-spying protest in Berlin during Obama's visit in June (Photo: Valentina Pop)

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

EU countries reject Snowden asylum

Six EU countries have said No to asylum for US leaker Snowden, citing technicalities. Germany and Italy are also unlikely to say Yes.

Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks

Street violence in Russia redoubled calls for new sanctions when foreign ministers meet on Monday, after eight EU states earlier proposed asset-freezes and visa-bans.


Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.


The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE

An internal power struggle has undermined the world's leading international security body since the summer. The OSCE is due to finally get new leaders in December but the unprecedented power vacuum has hit at a crunch time for hotspots worldwide.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Giuseppe Conte: scapegoat or Italy's most cunning politician?
  2. Borrell to meet Lavrov, while Navalny behind bars
  3. Too few central and eastern Europeans at top of EU
  4. Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact
  5. EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map
  6. Migrants in Bosnia: a disaster foretold on EU doorstep
  7. Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks
  8. Why Russia politics threaten European security

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us