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Reding: 'The US wants to rebuild trust'

Interview: Gero Schliess / sgbNovember 19, 2013

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has met with US Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the NSA spy scandal. EU citizens will be better protected against espionage in the future, she said in an interview with DW.

European Commisssioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding (EPA/NICOLAS BOUVY)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Ms. Reding, during your last visit to the US you pounded on the table and said, "Friends and allies do not spy on each other." Has the Obama administration understood this message, and what did US Attorney General Eric Holder say to you about it today?

Viviane Reding: Not only is the government saying something, there is a noticeable change among US citizens. Congressmen have noticed that things have reached boiling point in their districts. People are upset about the security agencies' eagerness to collect data. And they are upset about the fact that it affects not only Americans but also allies. A real movement is arising in the US that says we can no longer continue like this. And that is reflected in the movement in Congress and the government.

What exactly did you get from meeting Eric Holder?

We are negotiating a framework agreement to protect the data of European and American citizens when there is judicial and police cooperation between the two continents. We discovered that European citizens, when they are in America, could only be protected if US laws were amended. It appears changes to these laws are now under consideration. This is completely new. I believe that America is aware that to build and maintain strong cooperation with Europe, socially and economically, we must strike a balance between the rights at this level.

Can you give an example?

If a German or an Austrian gets on a plane in Munich to go to Washington, and his passenger data is interpreted wrongly or they are mistaken for someone else by the Americans, he can encounter huge problems when he steps off the plane in the US. But he has no chance to defend himself before US courts. An American in the same case in Europe is able to enforce his rights in European courts. And therefore we believe there must be a balance between the rights of Americans here and the rights of Europeans in America.

Let's return to the NSA eavesdropping scandal. Do Europeans and Americans have to negotiate new rules?

I believe this is also in the works. The American president has announced this. And the US attorney general has confirmed that there are reforms to be undertaken. What is new in these reforms is that they are not just about American citizens, but also about how European citizens should be treated. And that is absolutely new. Previously in such matters, only American citizens were considered.

Can European citizens therefore be sure that they will no longer be bugged?

That is a completely different question. The secret services are a national, not a European responsibility. In this case our individual countries must work together with the Americans for change. But it is important for American intelligence that both the president and the attorney general have said that legal changes are in the works that would affect not only Americans but also Europeans. This is really new.

What demands do you have in this context for President Obama?

My demands concern the cooperation between the security authorities, meaning the police and the judiciary, where there is a European responsibility. Where intelligence is concerned is a matter for the nation states.

But the movement here in America is a positive movement. I believe that it will also lead to an increase in trust. And this is necessary. That's because today we can see that this trust has been completely lost. In Germany too, a large majority of the citizens no longer trust the Americans. We have to counteract this with concrete actions. And what the Americans said today suggests they are willing to work to restore confidence.