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EU justice commissioner calls for strong stand on data protection

The EU’s executive branch has called on the bloc’s leaders to take a strong stand on data protection. This came just hours ahead of an EU summit and in light of the latest allegations of US spying on European citizens.

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Germany summons ambassador

The European Justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, said on Thursday that the latest reports of the US National Security Agency spying not only on European citizens, but also German Chancellor Angela Merkel, demanded a "a strong and united" approach to data security.

"Data protection must apply no matter if it concerns the e-mails of citizens or the mobile phone of Angela Merkel," Reding's spokesperson told reporters in Brussels, just hours before the bloc's 28 heads of state and government were to open a two-day summit there.

She added that adopting a proposed data protection law "would be a declaration of independence of Europe because that would allow Europe to credibly face the US ... giving itself a strong and united voice on this matter."

The legislation Reding referred to is a proposal that has been stalled for months due to disagreements among EU leaders on the issue.

New scandal on spying

Allegations that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Merkel's phone has sparked outrage in Germany, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday taking the rare step of summoning the US ambassador in Berlin.

The issue now threatens to dominate the agenda at the EU summit, which was originally meant to discuss a number of economic issues, such creating jobs and the eurozone's banking union project.

Chancellor Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are expected to take the opportunity to meet on the fringes of the summit to discuss how to respond to the US spying allegations. The AFP news agency quoted an unnamed French diplomatic source who said the two leaders would "obviously discuss it and how to coordinate their response."

Wednesday's report in the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, in which the allegations that the NSA was tapping into the chancellor's cell phone first emerged, followed a story earlier in the week, in which the Paris newspaper Le Monde reported that the NSA had collected 70.3 million recordings of French phone data over a one-month period between December 2012 and January 2013.

Discussions on illegal immigrants

EU leaders are also expected to use the summit to discuss how to respond to a wave of migrants seeking to enter the bloc from Africa. The number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in often-rickety vessels has increased sharply since a series of revolutions broke out in northern Africa two years ago. Many die attempting to make it to EU territory.

Earlier this month, more than 300 would-be migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Somalia, died after the boat they were travelling in caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

pfd/ph (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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