France and Germany yesterday pushed for Washington to agree to new rules on espionage after damaging revelations that the US tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and spied on other allies.
Paris and Berlin will “seek bilateral talks with the US” to reach an understanding by the end of this year on the conduct of intelligence gathering among allies, EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters after the first day of EU summit talks.
Van Rompuy said other countries could join the talks if they wished.
In a statement, the 28 EU leaders “underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership.”
This partnership “must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services,” the Europeans said.
Britain has long-established intelligence ties with the US, but when questioned on London’s role, Van Rompuy said that all leaders had agreed on the wording.
Britain “of course has a special relationship [with the US] ... but they are completely on board with this text,” he added.
British Prime Minister David Cameron made no comment to reporters.
Merkel had arrived at the two-day talks saying: “Spying between friends, that’s just not done” after reports the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped on her calls.
“We need trust between partners and such trust needs to be re-established,” she said.
The summit was intended to discuss employment and the digital economy, but was quickly overtaken by the scandal which has embroiled US President Barack Obama in embarrassing exchanges with key allies — from France and Germany to Brazil and Mexico.
More could follow after a fresh slew of damaging revelations, with Britain’s Guardian newspaper saying Washington had listened in on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders.
French President Francois Hollande and Merkel called Obama earlier this week demanding clarification of claims the NSA had spied on millions of French phone calls and on the German leader personally.
Hollande called for a code of conduct, recalling that the EU had set up a special unit to review the issue after leaks by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year.
These experts have to “accelerate their work with our American allies,” Hollande said, because “this is a subject which is not going away.”
“We need to get results,” he said, adding that in the end, Snowden’s revelations may prove useful.
Meanwhile, an adviser to Obama acknowledged that US surveillance had created “significant” challenges with its allies.
“Though we collect the same sort of intelligence as all nations, our intelligence community has more restrictions and oversight than in any other country in history,” Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president on homeland security and counterterrorism, wrote in an opinion article in USA Today.
Recent disclosures “have created significant challenges in our relationships with some of our closest foreign partners,” Monaco said.
Monaco added that “the president has directed us to review our surveillance capabilities, including with respect to our foreign partners.”
In Washington earlier, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters: “We are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity,” adding that all nations spy on each other.
“We want the truth,” said Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Brussels, as leaders of Belgium, Finland, Malta and others said Washington must provide an explanation.
Letta had a particular interest in the issue after Italian weekly L’Espresso said Britain and the US spied on Italy to glean data on underwater fiber-optic cables — with the consent of Italy’s own secret services.