Germany summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry over reports Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was monitored by U.S. spy agencies as European Union leaders prepared to discuss tighter data protection.
Ambassador John B. Emerson was called in for talks with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin this afternoon, a ministry spokeswoman said, speaking under customary condition of anonymity. France summoned the U.S. ambassador in Paris on Oct. 21 in connection with a U.S. eavesdropping report.
Merkel, who won re-election on Sept. 22 for a third term leading Europe’s biggest economy, is the latest world leader to express outrage over allegations of U.S. eavesdropping. As the chancellor prepared to head to Brussels for a two-day meeting of EU leaders, members of her coalition called for the matter to be put on the summit agenda.
“This creates a breach of trust between Europe and the U.S.,” Shada Islam, director of policy at the Friends of Europe policy-advisory group in Brussels, said in a phone interview. “It erodes the sense of shared values and the idea that if things really go wrong, the Europeans can always rely on the Americans and vice-versa.”
Merkel spoke with Obama yesterday and “made it clear that she unequivocally condemns such practices if the evidence should prove true, and sees it as completely unacceptable,” her chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in an e-mailed statement. “This would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices must be stopped immediately,” Seibert said, citing the chancellor.
“The Americans are and will remain our best friends -- but that’s not acceptable at all,” German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in an ARD television interview today. “I’ve assumed for years that my phone was being bugged. But I didn’t expect it from the Americans.”
De Maiziere, who is one of Merkel’s closest advisers, underlined that the government doesn’t want the affair to cause long-term harm to U.S.-German ties. “The relations between our countries are generally stable and important, also for our future. It will stay that way,” he said.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday that “the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.”
Jan Techau, Carnegie Europe’s Brussels office director, said while “everybody spies on everybody,” tapping Merkel’s phone was “getting very uncomfortably close to the center.”
“This is not a trust-builder but I don’t think that the working relationship with America will be much affected,” Techau said in a phone interview, adding that he also didn’t think the affair would harm EU-U.S. talks aimed at a free trade agreement. “Germany really wants this deal,” he said.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior lawmaker for Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc, said in an interview that although “friends don’t spy on friends,” it remained crucial to push ahead with talks aimed at the EU-U.S. free trade pact. He said that the bugging matter should be put on the EU summit agenda.
German news magazine Der Spiegel first reported that U.S. intelligence may have been monitoring Merkel’s private mobile phone for years. German authorities investigated and gathered enough information to confront the U.S. with findings suggesting that Merkel’s phone had been monitored, Spiegel said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Merkel’s government held “high-level” talks in Berlin yesterday with White House and U.S. State Department officials to clarify the facts and these discussions will continue, Seibert said.
“The U.S. would be wise to distinguish between its allies and those about which it has more concrete security concerns,” Daniel Hamilton, head of the Center for Transatlantic Studies in Washington, said in an e-mailed reply to questions. “On the other hand, it is naive for the Germans to believe that only the U.S. does this.”
Obama has already sought to reassure Hollande this week about the countries’ relations after a report in Le Monde newspaper that the NSA eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France. The two leaders spoke by phone on Oct. 21 to discuss U.S. intelligence gathering amid an outcry in France stirred by the report that U.S. authorities had intercepted and recorded 70.3 million bits of telecommunications data from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.
Also this week, Mexico’s government condemned the alleged hacking of the e-mail account of then-President Felipe Calderon in 2010, saying such actions are unacceptable and violate international law. Brazil’s Rousseff called off a state visit to Washington after allegations of U.S. spying sparked outrage in Latin America’s biggest economy.
In Germany, the development emerges at a sensitive time for Merkel, coming on the day that she convened negotiations with her main Social Democratic Party rivals on forming a coalition following her Sept. 22 election victory. The SPD said during the campaign that free-trade talks with the U.S. should be put on hold until the Obama administration clarified the extent of U.S. monitoring in Germany by the NSA.
Ronald Pofalla, Merkel’s chief of staff, said Aug. 12 that the U.S. and Germany had agreed not to spy on each other following the scandal over electronic surveillance. Accusations that the U.S. had practiced “total surveillance” on German citizens is “off the table,” Pofalla said then.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at email@example.com