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Europe Reacts to US Surveillance


FILE - German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, July 3, 2013.

FILE - German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, July 3, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed to a meeting of U.S. and German security officials in the coming days to discuss allegations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on 500 million phone calls, emails, and other data passing through Germany.

This comes as the Council of Europe, a 47-member human rights body based in Strasbourg, suggested that European governments wait for the U.S. to tell its side of the story before "overreacting" to leaks.

Allegations of U.S. spying on European phone and Internet use have dominated headlines across the continent.

And the controversy has also become a hot button issue in Germany's upcoming elections. Germany's Social Democrats - the party set to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats - are demanding that Berlin investigate American intelligence officials. The Social Democrats want German prosecutors to travel to Moscow to question Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor accused of leaking information about the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance.

Daryl Lindsey, editor of the English edition of Der Spiegel, which published leaked NSA documents, says opposition parties will likely press Ms. Merkel on the issue.

“If it turns out that Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, has been openly cooperating with the NSA in this data collection, this could have very serious constitutional implications here. The government will face legal challenges and there could be political consequences for politicians as well," said Lindsey.

Outside of Germany, the reaction has been more cautious. Daniel Holtgen of the Council of Europe, a European human-`rights group, thinks many governments are waiting to hear from the Obama administration before they react.

"We are now referring to reports from The Guardian and from Der Spiegel, but we should wait in particular from the reaction and the response from the U.S., as it has been promised by President Obama," said Holtgen.

In Switzerland, the allegations of American spying have been met with pleas by that country's foreign minister to keep calm.

Relations between the two countries are already strained over alleged tax evasion by Americans using Swiss bank accounts and an earlier accusation by Snowden that CIA agents encouraged a Swiss banker to drive while drunk in a plan to recruit him.

Simon Johner, a spokesman for Switzerland's intelligence agency, told VOA the latest accusations are not especially surprising.

"Swiss officials have been aware of foreign spying in the country, especially industrial espionage," said Johner.

Sergey Lagodinsky is a foreign-policy expert at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, part of the Green political movement. He thinks the Obama administration should employ public diplomacy to counteract the spying allegations and rebuild public trust in Europe.

“I think the administration will have to do serious thinking regarding public diplomacy. I think what's been broken here through these leaks is the trust of Europe’s remaining Trans-Atlanticists," said Lagodinsky.

Meanwhile, fears that the revelations could derail upcoming EU-U.S. trade talks appear to have been allayed. Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's president, François Hollande, agreed on July 4 to drop demands for a delay after the U.S. offered to talk about the spying allegations in parallel with trade negotiations.
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