* Paris, Berlin expected to push spying issue at EU summit
* Germany says it has evidence Merkel's mobile "monitored"
* EU frustration could spur action on data privacy rules
By Luke Baker
BRUSSELS, Oct 24 German and French accusations
that the United States has run spying operations in their
countries, including possibly bugging Chancellor Angela Merkel's
mobile phone, are likely to dominate an EU leaders' meeting
starting on Thursday.
The two-day Brussels summit, called to tackle a range of
social and economic issues, will now be overshadowed by debate
on responding to the alleged espionage by Washington against two
of its closest European Union allies.
For Germany the issue is particularly sensitive. Not only
does the government say it has evidence the chancellor's
personal phone was monitored, but the very idea of bugging
dredges up memories of eavesdropping by the Stasi secret police
in the former East Germany, where Merkel grew up.
Following leaks by data analyst Edward Snowden, which
revealed the reach of the U.S. National Security Agency's vast
data-monitoring programmes, Washington finds itself at odds with
a host of important allies, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia.
In an unusually strongly worded statement on Wednesday
evening, Merkel's spokesman said the chancellor had spoken to
President Barack Obama to seek clarity on the spying charges.
"She made clear that she views such practices, if proven
true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them
unequivocally," the statement read.
White House spokesman Jan Carney said Obama had assured
Merkel that the United States "is not monitoring and will not
monitor" the chancellor's communications, leaving open the
possibility that it had happened in the past.
A White House official declined to say whether Merkel's
phone had previously been bugged. "I'm not in a position to
comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence
activity," the official said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has summoned the
U.S. ambassador to Berlin to discuss the issue, a government
spokesman said on Thursday.
Germany's frustration follows outrage in France since Le
Monde newspaper reported the NSA had collected tens of thousands
of French phone records between December 2012 and January 2013.
President Francois Hollande has made clear he plans to put
the spying issue on the summit agenda, although it is not clear
what that will ultimately achieve.
While Berlin and Paris are likely to find sympathy among
many of the EU's 28 member states, domestic security issues are
not a competence of the European Union. The best that may be
hoped for is an expression of support from leaders and calls for
a full explanation from the United States.
DATA PRIVACY RULES
However, the accusations could encourage member states to
back tough data privacy rules being drafted by the European
Union. The European Parliament approved this week an amended
package of legislation that would overhaul EU data protection
rules that date from 1995.
This would restrict how data collected in Europe by firms
such as Google and Facebook is shared with non-EU countries,
introduce the right of EU citizens to request that their digital
traces be erased from the Internet, and impose fines of up to
100 million euros ($138 million) on rule breakers.
The United States is concerned that the regulations, if they
enter into law, will raise the cost of doing business and
handling data in Europe. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others
have lobbied hard against the proposals.
Given the spying accusations, France and Germany - the two
most influential countries in EU policy - may succeed in getting
member states to push ahead on negotiations with the parliament
to complete the regulations and make them tough.
That could mean an agreement is reached early next year,
with the laws possibly coming into force in 2015. For the United
States, this could substantially change how data privacy rules
are implemented globally.
It may also complicate relations between the United States
and the EU over an agreement to share a large amount of data
collected via Swift, the international system used for
transferring money electronically, which is based in Europe.
Among the revelations from Snowden's leaks is that the
United States may have violated the Swift agreement, accessing
more data than it was allowed to.
The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to suspended the
Swift agreement and the spying accusations may make EU member
states support a firm line, complicating the United States'
ability to collect data that it says is critical in combatting
Despite the outrage in Paris and Berlin, the former head of
France's secret services, Bernard Squarcini, said the issue was
being blown out of proportion and no one should be surprised
that the United States is spying on allies.
"I'm bewildered by such worrying naivite. You'd think the
politicians don't read the reports they're sent - there
shouldn't be any surprise," he told Le Figaro newspaper .
"The agencies know perfectly well that every country, even
when they cooperate on anti-terrorism, spies on its allies. The
Americans spy on us on the commercial and industrial level like
we spy on them, because it's in the national interest to defend
our businesses. No one is fooled."