EU says distrust of US on spying may harm terror fight

  • 25 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
  • comments
Media captionFrench President François 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.

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".

Media captionDavid 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".

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."

Media captionAngela 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.