The German government reacted strongly on Monday to media reports that the United States has spent years spying on the European Union and on specific European countries. Meanwhile, European Union leaders have both reviled the US for allegedly bugging EU diplomatic missions in Washington, DC, and New York and ordered that bloc facilities be searched for American eavesdropping equipment.
"The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday through her spokesman Steffen Seibert. "We are no longer in the Cold War." Seibert said that Merkel had already communicated her displeasure to the US. "Trust has to be the basis of our cooperation," Seibert said. "When it comes to this affair, trust has to be re-established."
In addition, Germany's Foreign Ministry is performing a check on the security of its communications with embassies abroad while the Interior Ministry in Berlin is undertaking an examination of the safety of communication channels used by the German government.
The reactions are the clearest indication yet that Berlin and Brussels are taking reports seriously that the American intelligence service National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the EU and collected vast quantities of data from German citizens.
SPIEGEL reported on the surveillance over the weekend after having seen secret documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden . It is just the latest in a series of allegations made by Snowden regarding the vast reach of US intelligence. In addition, the Guardian has reported that the NSA spied on several European countries, including France, Greece and Italy, in addition to other overseas allies.
'A Great Deal of Unrest'
Europeans are deeply unsettled as a consequence. "We expect rapid clarification from our American partners," said a spokeswoman for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. "Of course we are worried, because if the allegations are true, it would create a great deal of unrest."
EU diplomats, with the active involvement of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, spent much of Monday coming up with a joint response and reaction to the possible US spying. According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Westerwelle spoke at length with Catherine Ashton, chief of EU foreign affairs, on Monday. "Both were in agreement that such activity among partners and friends in unacceptable," the statement read.
Ashton, who is in Brunei for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), addressed the spying allegations with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of that meeting on Monday. In comments to reporters in Brunei, Kerry appeared to play down the allegations. "I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contribute to that," Kerry told journalists there. "All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations."
In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry called in US Ambassador Philip Murphy on Monday for consultations. Brussels likewise called in the US ambassador to the European Union, William Kennard.
'A Touchy Issue'
French President François Hollande also voiced his anger at allegations published by the Guardian that Paris had been a target of US surveillance and spying activities. "We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies," Hollande said. "We ask that this stop immediately." Italian President Giorgio Napolitano added that "this is a touchy issue that requires satisfactory answers."
Beyond the sharp words, however, are concerns that the spying allegations could result in an immediate worsening of trans-Atlantic relations and perhaps even have negative consequences for negotiations over the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement which started last month. Several diplomats have suggested that talks should be suspended temporarily, including European Commissioner Viviane Reding on Sunday.
On Monday, German Consumer Affairs Minster Ilse Aigner expressed her own concern, telling SPIEGEL ONLINE that "we need better protection of private date, not more state surveillance. Otherwise, a free trade agreement makes no sense." European Parliament President Martin Schulz also indicated on Monday that the free trade agreement was in danger. "As a European and a representative of a European institution, I feel treated like the representative of the enemy. Is this the basis for a constructive relationship ...? I think not." He also compared the NSA activities to those undertaken by the Soviet intelligence agency KGB during the Cold War.
Schulz has also called a meeting of representatives of all the party groups represented at the European Parliament to discuss the wording of a potential EU resolution in response to the spying allegations. The Green Party in the European Parliament is calling for the EU lawmaking body to demand that the Commission examine possible legal action against the United Kingdom and the US relating to the surveillance and spying. Others are demanding the immediate creation of a parliamentary investigative committee at the EU level.
Merkels' unusually sharp words seem to have opened the gates for more reactions from her cabinet in Berlin. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich in particular seemed eager to reverse earlier comments he had made about Prism in which he said that critics of US Internet surveillance were action out of a "mixture of anti-Americanism and naiveté."
Obama to Provide Information
On Monday, he changed his tune. "If suspicions are confirmed, it would be a burden on the trust between the EU and the US," he told German newsmagazine Focus. "An apology would be unavoidable," he added.
German Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, who is also Merkel's vice chancellor, likewise vented his anger on Monday. "The energetic collection of data that we currently see from our partners in European and abroad is outrageous," he told reporters in Frankfurt. "We have understanding for combating terrorism," he added, but not for "aimless, indiscriminate and unrestrained spying on citizens."
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger commented on the allegations of US spying on Sunday.
The US, meanwhile, is biding its time. US President Obama said on Monday in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that his government is still looking at the revelations published in SPIEGEL. He said that once that examination is complete, the US will provide its allies with all of the information they are seeking.
With reporting by Veit Medick, Annett Meiritz and Philipp Wittrock