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27th Sep 2020

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

  • Protesters in Berlin calling for Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer Snowden safety in Germany (Photo: linksfraktion)

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

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The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee's National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, one of the drafters behind the deleted clause, told this website that Snowden needs protection on EU territory and not in Russia.

“The EU should have more backbone,” he said.

US lobbying is said to have intensified in the run-up to the vote by MEPs.

The camp opposed to Albrecht’s proposal, aside from conservative and centre-right MEPs, also included some from the centre-left S&D group.

Albrecht in a tweet immediately following the vote said: “It was clear that Europe's Conservatives do not want Snowden, but it's just nasty that the Social-Democrats are in on this, too.”

British centre-left Claude Moraes, who steered the parliament’s three-month NSA inquiry, told reporters in Brussels that it is up to member states, not EU institutions, to grant or withold consular protection.

Instead, MEPs backed a general provision on international protection for whistleblowers.

“What we ended up with I think was a realistic and sensible enhancement for international whistleblowers,” Moraes said.

He described Snowden’s contribution as “a lasting legacy” for international protection.

Not everyone was happy with Moraes’ final text, despite its asylum deletion.

British conservative Timothy Kirkhope voted against it en bloc. He said the committee failed to carry out a serious probe and that MEPs have no business talking about national security issues.

“The end result is the most biased and highly prejudiced report I've seen from the parliament,” he said in a statement.

In other areas, the resolution says the EU parliament should only consent to an EU-US free trade agrrement (TTIP), so long as the final text does not intrude on matters of data protection.

It noted that the existing EU-US terrorist financial tracking programme (TFTP) should be suspended until the Americans provide more detail into allegations they hacked the international wire transfer system, Swift.

The MEPs also asked the European Commission to scrap the EU-US “Safe Harbour” deal, which claims to ensure that US-linked firms follow EU data protection laws when processing the personal data of EU citizens.

The deal is said to contain loopholes which let hundreds of US companies make pretend they do no wrong.

The resolution urges the US to propose a new framework for transfers of personal data which genuinely meets EU data protection requirements.

For their part, the Americans say scrapping the agreement would only serve to interrupt data flows and undermine existing compliance regimes, which currently cover some 3,000 Safe Harbour firms.

A member of US President Barack Obama’s NSA review team, Peter Swire, described the agreement to reporters in Brussels in January as a way to create enforceable and transparent safeguards.

“I’ve been impressed with Safe Harbour,” he said.

The Moraes resolution will be voted on in plenary in March.

The article incorrectly described centre-left Claude Moraes as a Liberal MEP. The article was corrected at 7.50 on 13 February.

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