Germany and France call for new 'spy rules'

Leaders want new accords amid allegations of US spying that reaches as deep as Angela Merkel's mobile phone. An existing 'five eyes' deal could provide a model.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
France's President Francois Hollande and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (r.) attend an European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Friday, October 25, 2013.

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Germany and France want a new set of spy rules in place by the end of the year, leaders said early Friday morning at a European Union summit, where allegations of American surveillance have dominated the agenda.

If not, they say, it could hurt the fight against terrorism. 

The “joint initiative” by Germany and France, which have been at the center of new allegations of US spying this week, called for renegotiating intelligence service cooperation with the US by year's end, and was signed by all 28 members of the EU.

 According to The New York Times, the statement read that all members “took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks” and “noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative.”

The push followed reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had listened to the telephone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a shock to a leader who is one of the most media-shy in office, as The Christian Science Monitor detailed in a profile of the German leader.

 “I think the services need to come to agreement between each other on yardsticks and other norms and standards,” Ms. Merkel said at a press conference after the first day of the two-day EU summit, which continues today in Brussels. “Words are not sufficient. True change is necessary.”

“This partnership  . . .  is a partnership that has stood the test of time,” Merkel also said of the German-American relationship. “But for the future, things have to change and they have to change radically.”

Germany and France did not elaborate on what new spying protocols would look like. But some officials, according to the Financial Times, said it could resemble the “five eyes” deal between the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, “in which the English-speaking allies work almost seamlessly on signals intelligence.” 

France joined the push with Germany after new revelations this week published in Le Monde showed massive spying on the part of the NSA on French telephone data, including that of French politicians, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

But anger was not limited to the two major powers within the eurozone. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt shared his indignation with BBC Radio 4's Today program: "There is no reason to spy on Angela Merkel. It's a real scandal," he said, as quoted in the Guardian. "A new agreement is needed between the EU and the US; this cannot continue.”

Dismay in the EU is likely to mount further with allegations that the NSA was listening in on the conversations of 35 world leaders, according to a report in the Guardian detailing a 2006 NSA memo provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. 

The statement Friday from EU leaders read: "A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering."

The spying allegations could influence a host of issues between the US and Europe that go beyond actual spying.

Michel Barnier, the EU's internal market commissioner, told the BBC that he wanted to develop a European data cloud, independent of American oversight.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, has pushed for stronger data privacy rules that are controversial among member states as they increase the cost of business. But it could gain more proponents as European anger over American spying mounts. 

Such rules could indirectly impact a key deal between the US and EU right now: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is because the US might balk atthe high costs of  potential new privacy data laws in Europe.  The Christian Science Monitor explained how such rules could impact American companies like Google and Facebook.

Yet while the NSA scandal has also led to direct calls by some European politicians to call TTIP talks off, it seems that for now both the US and EU are attempting to control the damage and keep the negotiations moving forward.

“I always take the view that when you leave the room, you have to always contemplate how to get back in again,” said Merkel, according to The New York Times. “In such a tense situation, such talks may be even more important than usual.”

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