BRUSSELS – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday eavesdropping on allies is unacceptable and that trust must be won back following reports her mobile phone was bugged by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“Spying among friends is not done,” Merkel said to reporters before a European Union summit in Brussels, her first public reaction to Wednesday’s report in Der Spiegel magazine. “We need trust between allies and partners, and this trust must be re-established.”
German politicians from all parties have reacted with outrage to the report that the U.S. National Security Agency may have been monitoring Merkel’s private mobile phone for years. A White House statement that the United States isn’t listening in failed to stem demands in Germany and elsewhere in Europe for action to ensure there is no repeat.
Germany summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Thursday to clarify the charge of U.S. eavesdropping as Merkel joined EU leaders, with the meeting’s discussion of data protection taking on new relevance. Neither Merkel nor any of the other 27 EU leaders entering the summit echoed a call by European Parliament President Martin Schulz to suspend EU-U.S. talks aimed at a free-trade agreement.
“There has to be a moment where we interrupt,” Schulz said on his way into the summit a few minutes after Merkel. “When I go into a negotiation and fear that the other side, a friendly democracy, has conducted espionage to find out what I’ll say in the negotiations, then we’re not at the same level anymore.”
Schulz is a German Social Democrat. His SPD, which is negotiating with Merkel to set up a coalition government in Berlin, has also called for delaying the trade talks.
The proposed free-trade accord probably won’t become a victim, least of all as a result of Germany, said Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe’s Brussels office director.
“The German government won’t let this seriously impact on talks for an EU-U.S. free-trade deal,” Techau said by phone. “Opposition is going to come more from the EU Commission and European Parliament, which is already seeking harsher measures on this.”
Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said the fallout “isn’t going to seriously affect the EU-U.S. trade talks because most of the EU governments, especially Germany’s, are keen for a trade deal.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday declined to answer a question about whether the U.S. had monitored Merkel’s telephone conversations sometime in the past. Carney Wednesday said only that the U.S. “is not monitoring and will not monitor” Merkel’s communications.
“We are not going to comment publicly on every specified, alleged intelligence activity,” Carney told reporters in Washington. “We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
European and German politicians intensified calls for the bugging allegation to be investigated and cleared up.
“There are strong signals that my German colleague has been wiretapped,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters before the summit, saying that he found the charge “impossible, unthinkable and very serious.”
A decision Thursday on possible action against the U.S. “is not foreseen,” he said. “We are now awaiting the investigation results and based on that, we will set the next steps.”
Merkel, who won re-election on Sept. 22 for a third term leading Europe’s biggest economy, is the latest world leader to express disquiet over allegations of U.S. eavesdropping. French President Francois Hollande also sought clarification this week over allegations of spying by the NSA.
“We need the truth now,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin Thursday.
With assistance from Leon Mangasarian and Rainer Buergin in Berlin, Margaret Talev in Washington and Jurjen van de Pol in Brussels.