PARIS France must get better than the United States at economic intelligence rather than whining about U.S. phone tapping, which is no reason to suspend EU trade talks with Washington, its trade minister told Reuters on Tuesday.
Reports that the U.S. National Security Agency extensively intercepted its European allies' phone calls and emails including France and Germany have caused a diplomatic uproar.
Asked about the scandal, Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said the lesson was for Paris to improve its own economic intelligence gathering.
"Economic intelligence exists. There's no point in whining. I think we should be doing better, be better organized," Bricq told a Reuters Newsmaker briefing on Tuesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded last week that the United States conclude a "no-spying" agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington's closest EU allies had to be stopped.
Bricq said she was not condoning spying on allied countries or their leaders, but gathering information on economic resources, activities and policies was "part of trade battles".
"We need to do better than the Germans, the British and the Americans," she said.
The minister, who has criticized the lack of transparency in the U.S.-EU trade talks and called for the publication of the EU's negotiating mandate to dispel public fears, said the phone-tapping furor was not a reason for breaking them off.
"I haven't heard one single EU member state say that we need to suspend the talks," she said. Even before the first round, "there were already revelations about NSA tapping. We should not feed all sorts of conspiracy theories," she said.
The first round of talks in July were overshadowed by reports that Washington had bugged EU offices under its surveillance program made public by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The second round was postponed due to the U.S. government shutdown and is now due to take place in December.
Bricq said the EU needed to strengthen data protection to restrict how firms such as Google and Facebook share data collected in Europe with non-EU countries.
She regretted that EU leaders had dropped a call for swift adoption of tougher legislation at a summit last week, saying it was a missed opportunity to show citizens that Europe "is there to protect them."
(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Paul Taylor)