US spying: Pragmatism tempers EU anger

  • 25 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
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In the end pragmatism out-pointed outrage. France and Germany have opted to talk with the Americans rather than preside over a rupture in transatlantic relations.

That should not disguise a very real sense of betrayal in parts of Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was clearly not placated by her phone call with President Obama. His words had been chosen too carefully and it is widely believed in Germany that one of the chancellor's phones had been monitored in the past.

"Words will not be sufficient," she said, "true change is necessary".

So Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande met at the summit in Brussels and drew up a plan.

They are looking to establish a common framework with the United States over intelligence-gathering by the end of the year.

They want a new set of rules with a "no spying pact" at the core. This would mirror a similar arrangement the US has had with Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand since just after the World War II.

Image caption Chancellor Merkel's relationship with the president has been damaged by the revelations

It is unclear, however, where lines would be drawn and how enforceable any pact would be.

President Hollande was clear that this was not about weakening ties with America.

"What is at stake," he said, "is preserving our relationship with the US. That should not be changed by what happened, but trust has to be restored."

There is an underlying reality here: Both Germany and France's intelligence services co-operate with the US closely in monitoring countries like Russia, China and Iran, and neither President Hollande nor Chancellor Merkel wants to change that.

The German chancellor was dismissive of suggestions that talks about a free trade deal be postponed until trust between Europe and the US had been restored. She was not prepared to delay a negotiation which promises such rich dividends.

Angela Merkel was asked whether she could trust the British and its intelligence agency GCHQ.

She sidestepped those questions and spoke about allies serving together in conflict without needing to worry about surveillance.

She was also asked whether David Cameron had given assurances that the UK would not spy on its European partners. She implied further discussions were needed, with a view to placing the activities of the intelligence services on a firmer basis.

In the end the summit agreed that "intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism".

But there was a warning that "a lack of trust could prejudice the necessary co-operation in the field of intelligence-gathering".

Spying by its very nature works in the shadows and working out an agreement between Europe and the US will be difficult. In the meantime the reputation of the US in Europe has been damaged by these revelations.