Thursday

27th Apr 2017

Merkel in tough spot over US spy scandal

  • Merkel wants Obama to respect German law on German soil (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday (19 July) defended her stance on the US spying affair, saying Washington needs more time to give all the answers and that she cannot force the US to change its laws.

At the traditional "summer press conference" ahead of breaking off to holidays in Italy, Merkel was grilled for over an hour about her response to revelations made 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.

The former US intelligence contractor last month exposed a secret surveillance programme (Prism) ran by the National Security Agency which taps into the servers of Google, Apple or Facebook, enabling them to snoop emails, chats or voice conversations in their search for alleged terrorism suspects.

Germany turned out to be the country where most data is collected from among EU nations, according to Snowden, who also pointed the finger at the German intelligence services for knowing and assisting the NSA in this project.

Faced with increased criticism from the opposition that risks to dent her popularity ahead of her re-election bid on 22 September, Merkel said "German law needs to be respected on German soil."

"Here in Germany and in Europe it's not about the law of the strongest, but about the strength of law," she said.

However, a declaration from the US side that they abide by German law and are not engaged in mass surveillance of German citizens, as she asked for when President Obama visited her in Berlin last month, has not been formulated yet.

"They asked for more time to look at all the questions we sent them. In this case, I think it's better to wait than to get a declaration which turns out to be void," she said.

Even if she understands that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 put the US in a "deep shock" and that at that time Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promised "unlimited solidarity", Merkel is still "concerned" about the proportionality of all anti-terrorism programmes in the US.

"The end doesn't justify the means. Just because you have a certain technology doesn't mean you need to use it," she said.

But she also pointed to the limitations of her mandate. As a German chancellor, she can only demand from the US to stick to German law while on German soil.

"But I cannot tell them to adapt their laws to the German ones. We are finding it difficult even in the EU to agree on data protection standards," she pointed out.

Germany and France are now jointly pushing for a revamp of the EU data protection law to also cover intelligence services, Merkel said. "It will be a difficult task," she said, pointing to the UK, where decades of conflict and terrorism in northern Ireland have made the country more tolerant to surveillance than Germany.

The two countries are also pushing for internet companies like Facebook and Google to be obliged to give notice when they hand over private data to other governments or organisations.

Merkel downplayed the effect the scandal may have on her reelection bid and the chances to remake the same coalition with the Liberal Party.

"We are 66 days ahead of elections, data privacy will play a role, but several other topics are likely to come up too. We have a convincing concept and I am confident this can be explained well to our citizens," she said.

The opposition has criticised her for failing to defend the interests of German citizens.

"What does the government know? Is the programme still ongoing? What is Merkel doing to defend German interests? We need answers to all these questions now," Social-Democrat leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Bild.

The Greens reacted by saying she was not convincing at all.

"Merkel's performance at the press conference was not only an insult to all listeners who expected explanations, but also an intellectual insult to all those who work in the chancellery, pretending not to have known about anything," Green deputy leader Volker Beck told Spiegel.

A poll ran by ARD shows that over two thirds of those questioned are not happy with how the German government is handling the NSA affair. But so far this has failed to swing the voters' mood for the 22 September elections: 33 percent say this will impact their choice only marginally and 37 percent said this will play no role at all.

Merkel's coalition has so far managed to keep its lead over a leftist-green coalition, according to latest polls. Her Christian-Democrats are comfortably at 41 percent, while the Liberals clock in at five percent among voters. The Social-Democrats are at 23 percent and the Greens at 14 percent.

Merkel rival demands halt of EU-US talks

Steinbrueck, a candidate for Germany's next Chancellor, has demanded to halt EU-US trade talks amid revelations Washington is spying on European allies.

Analysis

Orban set to face down EU threats

The European Commission and Parliament are to debate Hungary's slide into illiberal democracy. But the bloc continues to think that Hungarian leader Viktor Orban is not a systemic threat.

France still anxious over possibility of Le Pen win

Despite opinion polls that place centrist Macron well ahead of the far-right leader Le Pen in the 7 May presidential run-off, doubts are emerging about his capacity to unite the French people around his candidacy.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament moves to lift Le Pen's immunity
  2. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's university law
  3. Scots slowly losing appetite for independence - poll
  4. Council of Europe puts Turkey on watch list
  5. EU to put parental leave on political agenda
  6. Israel cancels German meeting over human rights groups
  7. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  8. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  2. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  3. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts
  4. European states still top media freedom list
  5. Let’s not put European public health at risk
  6. Threatened Budapest university calls for EU support
  7. Orban set to face down EU threats
  8. Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  2. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  3. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  6. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  7. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  8. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  9. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  11. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  12. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal