American spying in Europe: ‘Uncle Sam has behaved very badly’

1 July 2013 – Presseurop

New revelations of National Security Agency spying on EU embassies and delegations have shocked America's European allies and prompted indignant and at times fatalistic comment in European press.

On June 30, Der Spiegel revealed that the European Union’s diplomatic delegation in Washington, its mission to the UN in New York, and certain European Council buildings in Brussels had been bugged as part of the National Security Agency's (NSA) “Dropmire” eavesdropping programme. Next, The Guardian reported that France, Italy and Greece were high on the American agency’s target list. The news has embarrassed European states ahead of next week's opening of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Although it leads with the headline, “Germany and EU targeted by American agents,” German daily, Die Welt is eager to dedramatise the implications of the revelations. In a front page editorial, the newspaper argues that —

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It is not nice to spy on one’s friends [...] but it is something that happens both in private and political life. In private life, it may pave the way for a divorce, in politics, however, a sustained separation cannot be allowed. Sooner or later, we will need the others. [...] The German government wil not take action against the British or the Americans but will continue to gratefully accept data [it needs for the fight against terrorism], because its own secret services have been subject to budget cuts.

In Austria, Die Presse leads with the front page headline: “Outrage at US: “Echoes of Cold War”. The Viennese daily appreciates the indignation felt by Germany. It further points out that the country, which is both “a scapegoat and a target for attacks,” may “soon have had enough” of such treatment —

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Germans are now aware that their country is a “third-class partner” for the United States, and the major European target for NSA cyber attacks. For German Justice Minister [Sabine] Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the agency’s activities bring to mind [espionage] operations “between enemies during the Cold War.” You can hardly blame her [for saying so].

“Silence, a friend is listening,” announces the Corriere della Sera editorial, which paraphrases a famous propaganda poster from the Mussolini era. For the Milanese daily, whose frontpage headline reads: “Europe angry over Amerian espionage” —

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… the Edward Snowden revelations […] speak volumes about the way in which the Americans have turned their big electronic ears on their allies. And in particular on Germany, which given its economic weight, is hardly surprising. “Follow the money” is the watchword for US agents. […] Of course, we are friends, but when the time comes to tally the accounts, it is every man for himself. […] Europe is right to protest and to demand that the US give details of the data archived by the NSA. Some have even mentioned trade sanctions. However, no one can deny that when they want to, EU governments can and do collaborate with the Americans.

“Big Brother is watching EU,” headlines Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza. The daily notes that Europeans take the matter of electronic surveillance more seriously than Americans, an attitude which is reflected in their language –

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In America, state interference in citizens’ privacy is seen as a restriction on their liberty that must be endured for the sake of security and to combat terrorism. Meanwhile in Europe, privacy is frequently thought of as a basic human right, which should only be breached as a last resort. The devotion to this principle is particularly strong in German-speaking Europe where the historic trauma of Nazi totalitarianism and the communist experience of the GDR is still felt.

Leading with the headline, “US espionage prompts outrage in Europe” El Periódico notes that —

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US-EU relations have been seriously compromised, in the wake of new revelations, which confirm that the US government not only spied on communications between European citizens, but also on the headquarters of the EU, and made European institutions a priority target. [...] The seriousness of these revelations could force European leaders to adopt a more determined response than they have in the past [and] talks on the free trade agreement between the EU and the United States will probably be the first victim of this fresh abuse of American power.

In Paris, Le Monde announces that “Uncle Sam has behaved very badly,” while pointing out the subject at issue “is standard practice for secret services. Between friendly nations, it is as common to ‘exchange information’ as it is to ‘spy’ each other.” However, the daily expresses its approval for the call to order voiced by Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice —

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Somewhat naively, Viviane Reding said on June 30, "that there is no spying between friends"... [...] Mrs Reding has all the more reason to protest since she has been forced to bend to pressure from the corporate giants of Silicon Valley for a dilution of European legislation on the protection of personal data. This question will be one of the burning issues in the talks on the free-trade accord between the EU and the United States, which are set to open next week.

“Europeans fume over US spying allegations,” splashes the Financial Times, commenting that the revelations have “threatened to complicate further an already challenging effort to forge a transatlantic trade agreement” ahead of the opening of talks next week in Washington. The British economic daily says –

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The pact is being counted on not only to boost sluggish economies but also solidify EU-US relations for another generation. [...] But the report in Der Spiegel, the German weekly, could make them more difficult by further inflaming EU-US disputes over data protection rules that have proved highly troublesome in recent years.

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