A question of trust: MEPs call for answers from US over spying scandal  


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Prism debate ©Belga/DPA/J.Buettner 

The US should come clean over allegations that is has been spying on the EU and its people, the majority of political groups said in a debate on Prism on 3 July. However, they disagreed on whether the revelations should affect negotiations for a transatlantic free trade agreement. Some MEPs stressed the need for facts before judging and pointed out that surveillance was necessary to safeguard people's security. There is also an urgent need to beef up EU data protection rules, most agreed.

Vytautas Leškevičius, Lithuania’s vice-minister for foreign and European affairs, who spoke on behalf of the presidency, said: "It happens to be our most important strategic partner and ally, but that doesn’t mean that we should remain silent.” However, he added that he did not want to create the impression that intelligence gathering by a foreign nation could be easily addressed by EU legislation.

There needs to be confidence and clarity among partners which excludes spying, said Viviane Reding, Commission vice-president responsible for justice and fundamental rights. She urged Parliament to adopt the necessary data protection legislation as soon as possible.

Manfred Weber, a German member of the EPP group, said what the Americans had done was “unacceptable”: “You don't spy on friends, and you don't spy en masse on the citizens of friendly states.” However, he added that the EU and the US still have shared interests such as growth and jobs and that free trade agreements should not be put on hold.

Dimitrios Droutsas, a Greek member of the S&D group who is in charge of steering new rules on cross-border data processing in police and judicial cooperation through Parliament, called the allegations a wake-up call for the entire EP. He said it could also affect negotiations for the free-trade agreement with the US. “Colleagues may say that we put at risk thousands of new jobs in the EU, but we cannot sacrifice everything and we cannot back down on the rights of European citizens.”

Sophie In ‘t Veld, a Dutch member of the ALDE group, said the EU has to guarantee Europeans that they are covered by European law, not American law. “It’s clear that we can’t sign an agreement with a partner that we don’t fully trust," she added, referring to the free trade agreement being negotiated.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German member of the Green group who is responsible for steering an update of EU data protection rules through Parliament, said this was the moment to strengthen data protection rules in Europe. Regarding the trade agreement, he added: “First we need standards, then we cooperate.”

Timothy Kirkhope, a British member of the ECR group, said the US or any member state should not be condemned on the basis of allegations that have yet to be corroborated. He stressed the need to establish facts first:

“Unfortunately, this House seems determined to conduct a witch hunt with the aim of securing headlines instead of acting responsibly," he said.

Cornelia Ernst, a German member of the GUE/NGL group, said putting millions of citizens, companies under surveillance “has nothing to do with terrorism but is organised crime at behest of nation states”. She demanded that a committee of inquiry be established in Parliament and that no free trade agreement with the US concluded until the matter is clarified.

Niki Tzavela, a Greek member of the EFD group, stressed that surveillance was necessary to safeguard the security of people: "Security is the issue, and security is what governments have to take care of.”

Hans-Peter Martin, a non-attached member from Austria, said: “The USA, regrettably, is a world policeman and has become a worldwide spy. Even friends are seen as targets.”