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24th May 2019

British MEPs fail to stop Snowden video

  • Whistleblower Snowden disclosed the US-led mass surveillance regime (Photo: EUobserver)

Conservative MEPs in Brussels have tried and failed to stop a European Parliament video chat with US leaker Edward Snowden.

Parliament sources say the centre-right ECR group, which includes the ruling British Conservative Party, rallied against the idea and forced the issue to a vote on Thursday (12 December) in the "conference of presidents" - a body of political group chiefs.

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But the conference voted to go ahead anyway.

“The only thing the conference of presidents suggested is to make an effort to … organise it [as] a real interactive exercise,” EU parliament spokesman Jaume Duch said.

The decision prompted a prickly reaction.

"The president of the parliament and other group leaders have refused to stop a wanted fugitive being given a free platform to further endanger public security," British ECR chief Martin Callanan said in a statement.

Snowden is said to be hiding out in Moscow after Russia granted him asylum from US authorities.

The current plan is for each political group to submit two or three questions in advance.

Snowden will then give answers in a pre-recorded video clip.

MEPs would have preferred a live question and answer session.

“If it can be interactive, then of course, we would do it interactive,” Claude Moraes, a euro-deputy from Britain's centre-left Labour party, told this website.

But officials on the parliament's civil liberties committee, which is holding an enquiry into the US snooping scandal, and Snowden's lawyers, opted for the pre-recorded format because live-streaming could be used by intelligence services to pinpoint his location.

The ECR group has said it will not be taking part.

Its spokesman told this website the format is "incredibly provocative and unacceptable" because it means Snowden will get the chance to broadcast his answers without being challenged.

For his part, German conservative MEP Axel Voss, who sits in the centre-right EPP group, also questioned the timing of the event.

The civil liberties committee is hoping to hold it on 18 December.

It also aims to file its final report on the snooping scandal by the end of the year.

But Moraes noted the Snowden broadcast might take place in January due to the time it takes to collect and screen the MEPs' queries before sending them to Russia.

Voss told EUobserver it does not make sense to do it after the committee's report is finalised.

“We are not opposed to approaching him, but we are asking ourselves about the sense of it and the timing,” he said.

“I’m asking myself ... what else can he explain to us, if everything has already been published?” he added.

He said he would have favoured a live question and answer session despite the security risks.

He added that sending an EU parliament delegation to Moscow to meet Snowden face to face would also have been better than the current arrangement.

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