Sunday

5th Jul 2020

Barroso: Up to member states to clarify WikiLeaks revelations

  • Mr Barroso conceded a similar leak could take place in the EU (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said it is not the task of his institution to explain revelations contained in US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, insisting that EU member states are better positioned for the role.

MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (14 December) repeatedly asked Mr Barroso to outline his position on the diplomatic cables and the legal action currently being taken against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was granted bail on the same day, but the Portuguese politician fended off questions saying the issue was outside the commission's domain.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

"All the leaks have really related to member states," said Mr Barroso. "It's up to them to carry out clarifications."

Several senior EU officials have been mentioned in the classified cables, providing an interesting insight into their private views, working methods and how they are seen by Washington.

One cable describes EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger as a 'lame duck' politician, sent to Brussels by German Chancellor Angela Merkel simply to get rid of him.

Another shows co-operation between EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard and the US in order to garner global support for the controversial Copenhagen climate accord brokered in December 2009.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is said to have expressed his relief at not attending the fateful meeting in Denmark. "Had I been there, my presidency would have been over before it began," he is reported to have told the US ambassador to Belgium.

In another released conversation, former external relations commissioner Chris Patten explained why the EU will never be a "real power." A cable from Russia says Prime Minister Putin saw Mr Barroso as "a glorified international civil servant not worthy to be in the Czar's [presence]."

Despite the clear references to Brussels, Mr Barroso insisted it is not a commission issue: "It's something that happened in the US ... and we have to be clear what are our competences."

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton took a similar line during a press conference on Monday. Asked if she or EU foreign ministers had discussed WikiLeaks or if she feared revelations about her self, she said "No we didn't and I don't care," AFP reported.

Julian Assange

Mr Barroso was equally tight-lipped on the current legal battle surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. "Obviously there is a presumption of innocence until the courts find otherwise," he told MEPs.

Mr Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden in a sex-crimes investigation, was granted bail by a British court on Tuesday, with the judge insisting he must abide by strict bail conditions.

The 39-year-old Australian has been held in a London prison for a week after surrendering to Scotland Yard for questioning after Sweden issued an arrest warrant.

Two women in Sweden have accused him of sexual misconduct in separate encounters, but Mr Assange denies the accusations, saying the incidents relate to "consensual but unprotected sex."

Some Assange supporters suspect the extradition request has been motivated by WikiLeaks' decision last month to begin publishing its store of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables, something Swedish officials strongly deny.

Italian Liberal MEP Sonia Alfano was among those raising doubts on Tuesday. "The only thing he did was to show certain murky areas that important powers are not comfortable with," she said.

At the same time, Mr Barroso did concede that a similar release of sensitive documents could happen in the EU. "What happened in the US we can't help thinking could happen in any system," he said. "Its true that in the US system hundreds of thousands of people seem to have access to information," he added.

A self-funded group of former EU officials, journalists and and NGO workers based in Belgium has recently set up an EU version of WikiLeaks to facilitate the spread of EU documents to civil society.

The secure system currently used by EU diplomats to exchange information, Coreu, has "better safeguards" than the US however, one EU diplomatic source said.

Facial-recognition moratorium back on EU agenda

Members of the committee on civil liberties widely supported a moratorium on facial recognition for law enforcement purposes, just after the EU data watchdog backed earlier this week the ban on this technology in public spaces.

EU parliament chairs explain missing lobbyist meetings

MEPs in January 2019 agreed to a rule change in a bid for greater transparency. The rules included requiring committee chairs to publish their meetings with registered lobbyists. EUobserver spoke to six chairs, who haven't done so yet.

Opinion

Why so few women in EU missions?

Angela Merkel is only the seventh woman to chair the Council of the European Union's meetings. And in 2020 there is no woman leading any of the current 11 European civilian missions (let alone the six military operations).

Eminent women appeal for EU help on Palestine

West Bank annexation "was conceived almost entirely by men" and will crush the "dignity and rights" of Palestinian women still further, a group of 40 women leaders have said.

Coronavirus

EU silent on US buying up world's remdesivir supplies

The European Commission says it is in talks with the US biopharmaceutical company Gilead to secure supplies of remdesivir but won't provide any details. The comments follow the purchase of the world's supply by the United States.

News in Brief

  1. EU grants Remdesivir conditional authorisation
  2. French prime minister and government resign
  3. France lied on Nato naval clash, Turkey claims
  4. EU highlights abuses in recent Russia vote
  5. Belgium bids to host EU mask stockpile
  6. France shamed on refugees by European court
  7. French and Dutch police take down criminal phone network
  8. EU launches infringement case on Covid-19 cancelled trips

Opinion

On toppling statues

The internationally-acclaimed author of King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild, writes on Belgium's problems with statues, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Feature

The 150 random French citizens advising Macron

Some 150 randomly-picked men and women make up Emmanuel Macron's Citizens' Climate Convention. This week Macron invited them to the Élysée Palace and promised - nearly - all of their wishes would come true .

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us