Friday

24th May 2019

US spying to trump economy at EU summit

  • EU leaders are gathering for their autumn summit in Brussels (Photo: European Council)

It's a diplomat's nightmare: after weeks of painstakingly negotiating and rewriting the wording of the EU council's conclusions, the summit gets hijacked by a completely different topic.

With no urgent decisions to take on the economic front, EU leaders on Thursday and Friday (24-25 October) were supposed to focus on innovation and "refitting" the EU rules machinery so it focuses more on the "big things" and less on small issues.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Germany was pressing ahead with its demands for more scrutiny and "binding contracts" between governments and the EU commission ensuring "ownership of reforms" at national level in return for a vague promise of "solidarity mechanisms."

But then the news broke Wednesday night that Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone may have been tapped by the US intelligence agency NSA.

Merkel at once phoned Barack Obama. The US president said that the agency is and will not be spying on her. But a White House spokesman could not confirm that the NSA has not done so in the past.

With France also having recently been irked by media reports that the NSA snooped massively on French citizens' phonecalls, leaders' attention is likely to be diverted to how to respond to this affair.

To date they have managed to keep relatively quiet about the revelations by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of US surveillance abroad.

The European Parliament on Wednesday upped the pressure as well, asking leaders and the EU commission to halt a data agreement allowing the US to sweep through banking transfers on the lookout for terrorism funding.

Meanwhile, the fallout of the Lampedusa tragedy - where hundreds of African refugees died off the Italian coast - is also on the minds of leaders, with southern countries demanding more EU help.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has urged European leaders to bolster Frontex border agency and speed up the creation of Eurosur, a satellite-and-drone surveillance programme to detect migrant ships in trouble.

He told the Italian Parliament on Tuesday Italy "will not accept cut-price compromises" from the summit on the matter.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy also asked for the EU to share their burden, particularly as more refugees from Syria are expected to arrive in Europe.

But leaders are likely to defer any concrete decisions until after the May 2014 EU elections, according to the latest draft of council conclusions leaked to the Financial Times.

Compared to previous drafts, the latest version marks another victory for Germany, who got its way on setting a deadline - December - for beefing up the commission's powers on economic reforms in member states.

Berlin's main grouch with increasing "solidarity mechanisms" - the latest being a link between the eurozone bailout fund, backed up by taxpayers, and banks in need for more capital - is that reforms are abandoned as soon as the economy slightly improves.

"We have country-specific recommendations - but an evaluation by the European Central Bank shows that only ten percent of last year's recommendations were implemented. That's why we need to look at ways on how to improve the situation," a German official told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday.

In return, Germany seems to be budging on the so-called banking union.

Apart from the single supervision of 130 largest banks in the eurozone, Germany has so far been reluctant to back a new "single resolution mechanism" that would have the power to shut down failing banks and tell creditors, shareholders and ultimately taxpayers to foot the bill.

A proposal by the EU commission earlier this summer was flatly rejected by Berlin. The German government still has objections - particularly when it comes to national parliaments which are not mentioned in the proposal - but now eyes a deal by December.

Germany budging on banking union

After having opposed for months a so-called resolution mechanism for failing eurozone banks, Germany is budging on the issue and wants a deal by the end of the year.

Germany gets its way on reform 'contracts'

Germany says fellow EU leaders have "accepted the principle" of binding reform contracts that will transfer further sovereignty from national level to Brussels.

Key details on how Europeans will vote

It's one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world with over 400 million eligible voters. National rules apply, and national parties run, but the stakes are at European level.

News in Brief

  1. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  2. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal
  3. UK sacked defence secretary backs Johnson for leader
  4. Dutch voter turnout so far slightly down on 2014
  5. Report: Hungary's Fidesz 'bought' Belgian official
  6. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  7. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  8. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Polling booths open in UK's limbo EU election
  2. Dutch PM puts EU exit on agenda with election gamble
  3. EU development aid used to put European police in Senegal
  4. EU should stop an insane US-Iran war
  5. EU faces moment of truth at midnight on Sunday
  6. Dutch MPs: EU sanctions should bear Magnitsky name
  7. Far-right hate speech flooded Facebook ahead of EU vote
  8. Key details on how Europeans will vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us