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Spying scandal

Bernd Riegert / cmkOctober 25, 2013

New reports of NSA spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel have overshadowed the EU summit in Brussels. Europe's top politicians have realized that anyone can be targeted and nothing is secret. Distrust of the US is growing.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to the media as she arrives at an European Union leaders summit in Brussels October 24, 2013. German and French accusations that the United States has run spying operations in their countries, including possibly bugging Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, are likely to dominate a meeting of EU leaders starting on Thursday. The two-day Brussels summit, called to tackle a range of social and economic issues, will now be overshadowed by debate on how to respond to the alleged espionage by Washington against two of its closest European Union allies. REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule (BELGIUM - Tags: POLITICS)
Image: Reuters

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at the EU summit in Brussels, her official vehicle sported a license plate with the numbers 007 - more famously known as the code name of fictional British Secret Service agent James Bond.

Whether or not the license plate was a simple coincidence, there was no denying that the newest round of spying allegations against the NSA has overshadowed the summit, which was actually meant to deal with economic issues. Merkel, whose mobile phone, according to reports, was spied on by the US National Security Agency (NSA), was not in a joking mood on Thursday (24.10.2013). "Spying among friends - that's just not done," said the Chancellor in Brussels.

"Trust must be restored," Merkel told the US government, which had assured the Chancellor that her mobile phone was not being tapped.

Late on Thursday evening, however, the British daily The Guardian reported that it had obtained a confidential memo suggesting that the NSA had also monitored the communications of 35 other world leaders. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, called on EU leaders to suspend the SWIFT agreement and the exchange of banking data with the US, a recommendation already made by the Parliament on Wednesday.

"Data protection must apply, no matter whether it concerns the emails of citizens or the mobile phone of Angela Merkel," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Franco-German solidarity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and French President Francois Hollande, left, participate in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. A two-day summit meeting of EU leaders is likely to be diverted from its official agenda, economic recovery and migration, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to U.S. President Barack Obama that U.S. intelligence may have monitored her mobile phone. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
Merkel and Hollande met to discuss the NSA affairImage: picture alliance/AP Images

On the sidelines of the EU summit, Chancellor Merkel and French President Francois Hollande briefly met to speak about the US's spying activities. After the meeting, a relatively relaxed Merkel said that "being spied on together has brought us closer." On Monday (21.10.2013), Hollande spoke out against the espionage of millions of French citizens by the NSA.

However, in an interview with DW, Alexander Stubb, Finland's Minister for European Affairs, warned against overreacting to this latest news. Stubb said that all top politicians must realize that they could be spied upon. "I am very careful, and always aware that whatever I communicate could be made public," he said.

Questioning the idea of data exchange with the US was not the best way to react, Stubb added, saying that in the worldwide digital community it was impossible to avoid exchanging information with American companies.

"My fear is that if we come down too hard on the Americans right now, we're going to cause a lot of trouble for data movement from Europe to the United States, and that's going to make our small, medium-sized and big companies suffer," he said. "So there needs to be common sense and justice in data protection, and at the same time, we shouldn't shut up shop just yet."

Digital economy to revive labor market

Data protection was also part of the "digital agenda" discussed by the heads of state and government on Thursday evening. The EU intends to strongly promote the development of a faster Internet and online businesses. There are many untapped opportunities in the digital economy, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes told DW. In the last few years, the development of mobile phone apps was responsible for creating 300,000 jobs in Europe alone.

Neelie Kroes Foto: Bernd Riegert (DW) alle Rechte
Kroes: The EU needs to catch up in the digital sectorImage: DW/B. Riegert

Kroes has called for the creation of a single European digital market by 2015, in which there are no roaming charges for data transmission. "We have a single market for everything in the EU apart from telecommunications. That's not normal," she said. Companies should be able to operate in all 28 EU countries without being hindered by specific national regulations. At the same time, privacy protection for consumers must be taken into account. "We must find the right balance," Kroes said.

Refugee help

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta didn't devote much time to the spying scandal, instead bringing up a particularly pressing problem for his country. "We would like the summit to focus on how to help with migration, and find answers," he said. "The case of Lampedusa should never happen again."

Italy has called for the distribution of refugees and asylum seekers in all EU states under a quota system. Letta wants to do away with the Dublin II regulation that requires asylum seekers to be processed in the country where they first entered Europe.

Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels May 22, 2013. Growing concern in European capitals about aggressive tax avoidance by high-profile corporations such as Amazon, Google and Apple looks set to steal the agenda of a European Union summit in Brussels on Wednesday. REUTERS/Eric Vidal (BELGIUM - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Letta came to the summit looking for help with Italy's migration problemsImage: Reuters

But the chances of that happening are not good, even after the tragic death of nearly 400 African refugees earlier this month off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Germany and other EU states have rejected a softening of the Dublin regulation.

European Parliament President Schulz has called for EU leaders to develop new migration policies that provide more possibilities for legal migration. "Europe is a continent that attracts immigrants. A look at the Mediterranean only confirms this fact," he said. "For that reason we need additional regulations. We can't deal with all immigration in Europe with just the Dublin II agreement."

Aside from outraged statements, there were no concrete decisions at the summit about the NSA scandal. The summit was meeting in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, which was said to have been bugged by the American intelligence service some years ago. "We don't feel very comfortable here anymore," said one EU diplomat, with a smirk.