Often, Angela Merkel's final press conference before summer vacation is a pretty boring affair. But not this year. Around 250 journalists turned out Friday to pose questions to the German chancellor. And most had only one thing on their minds: spying on Germany by America's NSA intelligence agency and its possible cooperation with its German counterparts as part of the Prism program.
The press conference provided Merkel with a perfect opportunity to shed more light on the data scandal and to burnish a government image that has been tarnished since SPIEGEL reported earlier this month that the NSA has been spying on the European Union and monitoring up to a half-billion German communications connections each month.
But she didn't take advantage of it. Merkel told reporters it was "entirely impossible" to deliver an analysis of Prism, adding that those hoping for more on Friday would be disappointed. The only thing she offered was: "The work is not complete. It is ongoing."
Merkel likewise shied away from providing a concrete timeline for when results of the ongoing inquiry into Prism would be provided. Merkel said that a list of questions had been submitted to the United States and that they were waiting for answers. "We are applying the appropriate pressure," she said. "We have made clear that answering the catalogue of questions is important to us."
The chancellor repeated her message from US President Barack Obama's visit to Berlin last month, in which she emphasized that surveillance measures in Germany could not be allowed to grow out of proportion with what is actually needed. "The end does not justify the means," she said, and not everything that is technologically possible should be used. "Germany is not a surveillance state," she said.
'German Laws Must Be Abided By'
Still, Merkel was reluctant to directly criticize the US, though she once again called on the Obama administration to respect German laws with any activities it undertakes in the country. "German laws must be abided by on German territory," she told the gathered journalists.
Merkel also noted that a number of working groups are currently addressing the scandal and that preventative measures should be implemented. The chancellor said there is an eight-point plan for improving data privacy, but offered few details.
She then asked for people to remain patient. Before the review of the disputed NSA surveillance program has been completed, little can be done, she said. "Our American partners still need time to review things, and I would rather wait," Merkel said.
Regarding missteps earlier this week by her Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, whom critics accuse of being uncritical in his dealings with the United States, Merkel said she has no plans to make any personnel changes. Friedrich, she said, has her "full trust." She said the same applied to Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla, who is the official coordinator of Germany's intelligence services.
Prior to her press conference, the opposition again increased pressure on the chancellor over the affair. Parliamentary floor leader for the center-left Social Democrats, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, asked in the mass-circulation Bild, "What does the government know? What programs are still in operation? What is Merkel doing to protect German interests? We need answers now," he said.
Meanwhile, Volker Beck, a senior Green Party member of parliament, described Merkel's appearance Friday as disappointing, saying it was an insult to listeners who were expecting answers from the chancellor.
The latest poll taken by public broadcaster ARD on the issue shows that the spy scandal hasn't had a massive impact on Merkel's standing. Only 33 percent of those polled said the scandal might have a minor impact on their voting decisions, while 37 percent said it would play no role whatsoever. Only 5 percent said it would be a significant issue when it came to casting a vote in September's national election.
Still, more than two-thirds of Germans said they are dissatisfied with the German government's efforts so far to look into spying by US intelligence agencies.