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Merkel pushes for EU-wide data protection rules

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the EU to adopt the same data protection norms as those that already exist in Germany. This came ahead of her last major press conference before the summer break.

Speaking in an interview published in the Friday edition of the Cologne-based Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger daily newspaper, Chancellor Merkel said such standards were needed not just to safeguard the privacy of each individual citizen, but also to protect them from what she called “varied threats.”

Merkel said that in talks with Germany's European partners it was important that "no compromises are made that deviate from our standards in terms of quality, but that high-quality common EU data protection norms are created, which would of great value for us. "

The chancellor added that among other things, Germany's negotiators in the discussion would demand that ”Internet firms based in Europe provide information about whom they pass any information on to.”

The interview with the chancellor hit newsstands as European Union justice ministers were set to enter a second day of talks in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital, where data protection was set to top the agenda.

It also came just hours before she was to face reporters in Berlin at her last major press conference before she and the government were to pause for their summer break.

The issue of data protection is a particularly sensitive one in Germany, due in part to memories of surveillance and repression by the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany the Gestapo under the Nazi regime.

Campaign issue

Data protection has dominated electioneering ahead of Germany's federal poll due on September 22. This follows recent revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor and former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden, suggesting mass surveillance by the NSA of the telephone and Internet activities of European citizens.

Germany's main opposition Social Democrats and Greens, as well as the Left party have been hightly critical of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) for how it has handled the controversy.

The opposition parties have singled out Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich for particular criticism, saying he failed to forcefully demand that US officials explain themselves for their intelligence services' activities during his trip to Washington last week. Friedrich faced two days of questioning on the issue by a Bundestag parliamentary committee earlier this week, but failed to satisfy opposition concerns.

However, an opinion survey released Friday indicated that while there might be widespread publc displeasure over the US agencie's spying activities, this may not be an issue that will sway voters.

According to the ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll, 37 percent of those asked said it would have no bearing whatsoever on deciding which party would get their vote when Germans go to the polls on September 22. Thirty-three percent said it would be a minor factor, while one in five said it would be a major factor in deciding whom to vote for.  

The controversy also doesn't appear to have hurt the popularity of Merkel's conservatives. A polls released last Sunday gave the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union jointly 41 percent support, while the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) were on 26 percent.

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Snowden remains on the run from US authorities, who want to put him on trial on espionage charges. He has been holed up in the transit area of one of Moscow's international airports for more than a fortnight.

pfd/ipj (Reuters, dpa)