If you can’t spy on your friends, who can you spy on? The latest espionage allegations have thrown fat on the fire of Europe’s official anger towards America. This was touched on at an EU summit in June; now it’s being asked how tightly the 28 countries want to grasp the nettle – whether they will object with any real volume.
But while there’s new steel in France’s voice, the other 27 EU states have kept calm. Will any bugging of Chancellor Merkel’s phone be the last straw? When she heard about it, she called President Obama. She said if it’s true it would seriously impair trust between Germany and the United States.
Has this galvanised Germany’s voice? In July, the public was outraged at allegations by the whistleblower on American secret data-gathering, Eduard Snowden – but it was the middle of an election campaign, and official reactions were quite soft. Although reunified now, in a country long split into capitalist Western Germany and Communist Eastern Germany, spying on people is felt as especially revolting, given their painful past.
In Germany, Der Spiegel whipped the story on; in France, Le Monde. It said in one month the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped and recorded more than 70 million exchanges of information by phone in France. This prompted the government to call the US ambassador in to express its displeasure. Afterwards Berlin did likewise.
French prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault said: “It’s incredible that a friend, an allied country like the United States can go so far as to spy on that many private conversations which have no strategic justification, no national defence justification for the US; therefore, the US must respond.”
France says it doesn’t want to let the case drop; it’s demanding explanations and saying the Americans must stop this at once.
The whistleblower’s revelations – which capitals seem to find credible – if they created any storm, saw governments quickly pour oil on the waves. Italy’s prime minister settled for a quite word about it with the US secretary of state, and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands didn’t kick up a fuss either.
Britain is not likely to support any diplomatic broadsides at the US; it helped the NSA gather data and justified it politically. The Guardian newspaper that first broke the story was even accused of endangering national security. However, the former head of France’s secret services Bernard Squarcini said agencies know perfectly well that: “The Americans spy on us like we spy on them, to defend our businesses. No one is fooled.”