In Washington, European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding harshly criticized the Obama administration for allegedly spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders.
“Friends and allies do not spy on each other. Friends and partners talk and negotiate”, Reding said at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington.
Reding was the highest ranking EU official visiting the American capital since reports of US eavesdropping and bugging on European leaders have emerged last week.
An angry Reding warned the US that it is “urgent and essential” that Washington take action to rebuild trust between the allies on both sides of the Atlantic. Otherwise the negotiations about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could be in jeopardy.
The recent developments concerning intelligence activities have raised deep concerns in Europe, Reding said. “They have unfortunately shaken and damaged our relationship.”
That relationship is of utmost value, but it must be based on respect and trust she added. “Spying certainly does not lead to trust”, Reding said.
Reding was scheduled to meet US lawmakers on Capitol Hill later on Tuesday. Her visit coincides with a similar trip of a European Parliament delegation in Washington this week to discuss the diplomatic fallout from the NSA spying story.
Some analysts say the foreign outcry signals the demise, or at least the limits, of American legal principles interpreted to grant constitutional rights to US citizens worldwide and to foreign nationals on US soil, but which often leave foreign citizens abroad with no legal protection at all.
White House officials say President Obama and other aides were not trying to be dismissive about foreigners’ privacy concerns, but were simply describing the legal regime in place. They also note that as the NSA scandal unfolded, Obama did try to address foreigners’ worries about U.S. surveillance.
“I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls. What we try to do is to target very specifically areas of concern,” Obama said in September during a visit to Sweden.