EU says distrust of US on spying may harm terror fight


French President Francois Hollande on the aims of the initiative

EU leaders meeting in Brussels said distrust of the US over spying could harm the fight against terrorism.

A statement agreed by the leaders said that "a lack of trust could prejudice" intelligence-gathering co-operation.

German spy chiefs are travelling to Washington next week to press for action over the alleged monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone.

Both Germany and France want talks with the US to find a new "understanding" by the end of the year.

As well as the bugging of Mrs Merkel's phone, there are claims the US National Security Agency (NSA) has monitored millions of telephone calls by both German and French citizens.

Spain on Friday followed Germany and France in summoning the US ambassador to explain reports of spying on the country.

Start Quote

In the end, pragmatism out-pointed outrage... but that should not disguise a very real sense of betrayal in parts of Europe”

End Quote

The UK's Guardian newspaper has reported that it obtained a confidential memo from the NSA suggesting it had monitored the phones of 35 world leaders.

The latest revelations have been sourced to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who fled the country earlier this year and is now in Russia.

US state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said a review of US intelligence gathering, called for by President Obama, would look at how it affects foreign policy.

The "high level group of outside experts... will consider as part of this how we can maintain the public's trust, how the surveillance impacts our foreign policy, particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public," she said.

'Vital element'

The EU leaders' statement, released earlier on Friday, reflected their conclusions following talks on Thursday.

It said the recent intelligence issues had raised "deep concerns" among European citizens.

The statement said the leaders "underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership".

David Cameron says he supports France and Germany in seeking talks with US over spying

"[The leaders] stressed that intelligence-gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism," it continued.

And it went on: "A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering."

"The heads of state or government took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the USA with the aim of finding before the end of the year an understanding on mutual relations in that field," the leaders' statement also said.

"They noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative."

French President Francois Hollande said the aim of the initiative "is about knowing about the past and setting a framework for the future and putting an end to monitoring mechanisms that are not controlled".

'Five Eyes' agreement

  • Initially a top-secret deal signed between the US and UK in March 1946
  • It committed both nations to sharing communications intelligence, continuing the practices of WWII
  • Later referred to as the "UKUSA Agreement", it formed the basis for intelligence co-operation
  • The agreement was later extended to cover Canada, Australia and New Zealand
  • Other countries also reported to have joined the community
  • The full text of the initial agreement was released by Britain's National Archives in 2005

Germany and France said they are proposing talks with the US to settle the row by the end of the year. But Mrs Merkel stressed Berlin and Paris would be making their own separate approaches to Washington.

BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says the French and Germans are looking for a new set of rules with a "no spying pact" at the core.

He says this would mirror an arrangement the United States has had with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada since just after World War II. That secret intelligence-sharing operation is known as Five Eyes.

Mrs Merkel said she did not know the exact details of the Five Eyes arrangement so could not say whether that is exactly what Germany is seeking, but added: "We need something clear-cut, in line with the spirit of an alliance".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the UK's "unique partnership" with the US regarding security but said: "I understand what others want to do and support that, as I think does President Obama".

When asked by the BBC if the US had ever monitored Mr Cameron's phone, White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said: "His communications have not, are not and will not be monitored by the US."

'Look to the future'

The spying revelations have overshadowed other issues at the EU summit in Brussels, including the Mediterranean migration problem, which framed the agenda of Friday's talks.

Italian authorities said they had intercepted some 800 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean as the EU leaders prepared to meet.

A number leaders indicated their support for the French and German position.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said: "The objective must remain the same - to fight against terrorism but also respect privacy.

"Everyone can understand the need for exceptional measures given the danger of terrorism... but we are not in the position where we should spy on each other."

Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt said it was "completely unacceptable" to eavesdrop on the leader of an ally, a view echoed by Italian PM Enrico Letta, who added: "We want the truth."

Angela Merkel: "Once the seeds of mistrust have been sown it doesn't facilitate our co-operation... it makes it more difficult"

Other leaders signalled the need to move on.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said: "The main thing is that we look to the future. The trans-Atlantic partnership was, and is, important."

Mrs Merkel had raised her concerns with US President Barack Obama in a call on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney later said Mr Obama had assured Mrs Merkel that her phone was not being listened to now and would not be in the future.

However, his statement left open the question of whether calls had been listened to in the past.



This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    My Father & veterans who bravely fought for our freedom in WW2 always spoke that when spies & snipers were captured, they were disarmed & generally shot without hesitation in the field of war. There was a reason for this. Spies & snipers were considered the ultimate cowards who hid behind others, when brave men were fighting for the freedom for families back home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    Lets face it, Germany started the 2 biggest wars the world has ever known within the last 100 years. They are friends now but maybe someone thought that in 1930 as well.

    Always good to keep an eye on your friends as well as your enemies, I just hope we are doing it as well as the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Don't forget, there would be no outrage if it was just ordinary citizens being spied upon. When it's politicians then it's a different matter, for they are so much better and important than us, not to mention honourable and trustworthy.

    My heart bleeds for them... pah.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    As an American I have to quite frankly ask every European this question...

    Are you seriously claiming that your governments have not spied on your own allies, Including us?

    Please don't insult everyone's intelligence by responding with a highly disingenuous "of course not!" because the fact is in the West we all have a continuing history of doing just that..

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    The outrage of European leaders is understandable and it's no suprise they are demanding answers. The UK public outrage over allegations of widespread illegal spying on its own citizens by our own GCHQ in collusion with the USA is being ignored by our own government.

    We may now get answers about these illegal practices in the UK thanks to Germany and France. The Irony? Cameron does not 'get it'


Comments 5 of 13


More Europe stories


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • BooksNew novels

    BBC Culture takes a look at ten new books to read in March


  • TomatoesClick Watch

    The smart garden that fits inside your house and provides fresh healthy food

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.