US whistleblower Edward Snowden could be invited to testify before the European Parliament by video link from Russia.
The parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee backed the planned appearance by 36 votes in favour, while two members voted against. There was one abstention.
The hearing could take place in April, but only if it is approved by a full parliamentary vote.
Some politicians object to Snowden appearing, fearing potential damage to EU-US relations. Washington is seeking to have Snowden extradited to the US.
“He is a man who has in his possession information which he obtained illicitly and which I think therefore is nothing we should be happy about in the European Parliament. So I have argued that we should not give him if you like a forum for his views,” said MEP Timothy Kirkhope, from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.
Other sources believe the former US National Security Agency worker – who was granted temporary asylum by Moscow after leaking details of widespread US spying – could decline the invitation for fear his whereabouts could be traced by a live video link-up.
There are doubts as to what new information the move would reveal. “What can he explain to us that hasn’t already been published?” asked German MEP Axel Voss in December. Voss is from Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who belong to the centre-right European People’s Party grouping.
But others defend the invitation: “I believe that we in the European Union bear a responsibility for this whistleblower. He should not be in the hands of a repressive dictator like Putin and we should not renounce the information that we can get there,” said Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht.
MEPs have held hearings into Snowden’s revelations about US spying. Following the vote by the parliamentary committee, his lawyers are reportedly being contacted about a possible link-up.
Edward Snowden fled the US after leaking documents about the NSA’s spying activities, including its widespread monitoring of telephone and email data.
Subsequent revelations that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone had been monitored caused uproar across the EU.