An ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said President Barack Obama’s pledge to limit global surveillance by spy agencies isn’t persuasive, leaving U.S.- European relations at the lowest ebb since the Iraq war.
Leverage to press Obama for further changes includes a pact that gives U.S. anti-terrorism investigators access to bank transaction data, which the European Union should suspend, Philipp Missfelder, the foreign-policy spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in parliament, said in an interview.
“The NSA affair has caused lasting damage to Obama’s exceedingly positive image in Germany,” Missfelder said. Germans had “unrealistic expectations about Barack Obama from the start” and now “trans-Atlantic relations are in the deepest crisis since the Iraq war.”
Obama’s speech on restricting the National Security Agency’s collection of signals intelligence, which allegedly included hacking Merkel’s mobile phone, has reignited criticism of U.S. surveillance by German officials. Germany is seeking to negotiate a “no spy” agreement with the U.S. after former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed the scale of NSA surveillance last year.
“The Americans have recognized that Germany plays a key role in the EU, so it has to be their interest to do more to clear up the matter and provide transparency,” Missfelder said in the interview yesterday.
While suspending Europe’s terror-finance pact with the U.S. would “make sense,” EU-U.S. negotiations on a free-trade agreement should be pursued because an agreement “is in Germany’s interest,” he said.
Dutch and Belgian data-protection agencies began an investigation in November of whether customer data on the money-transfer network, known as Swift, can be accessed by the NSA or other intelligence services.
Merkel, who has scaled back public appearances since sustaining a ski injury during her Christmas vacation, hasn’t commented publicly on Obama’s speech on Jan. 17. Steffen Seibert, her chief spokesman, said yesterday that Obama hadn’t addressed key German concerns, which include protecting Germans against U.S. spying that’s illegal under German law.
Obama said in a German television interview that “I don’t want harm” the “relationship of friendship and trust” between him and Merkel with surveillance.
“It’s going to take some time to win back trust,” the president said in the 16-minute interview at the White House aired Jan. 18 on ZDF television.
Germans were among Obama’s biggest fans when he ran for president, leading more than 200,000 people to turn out for a rally by the then-U.S. senator in Berlin in 2008. His approval rating among Germans fell to 43 percent in November compared with 75 percent in September 2012, according to a Nov. 4-5 Infratest poll for ARD television. Sixty percent considered Snowden a hero, according to the poll.