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France, Germany push for new rules in spy game

25 october 2013, 12:41
0
European Union heads of state and government. ©AFP
European Union heads of state and government. ©AFP
France and Germany pushed Friday for Washington to agree rules for the spy game after damaging revelations the United States tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, AFP reports citing the European Union.

Leaders "took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the US", EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a press conference after a first day of summit talks wrapped up.

Van Rompuy said other countries could join Berlin and Paris should they wish in seeking this trust-based "understanding" with the United States "before the end of the year" in the field of intelligence gathering.

In a statement in the early hours, the leaders of the 28-state EU "underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership".

They "expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services".

Britain has long-established intelligence ties with the United States but questioned on London's role, Van Rompuy stressed that all leaders had agreed on the text.

Britain "of course has a special relationship (with the United States) ... but they are completely on board with this text", he added.

Prime Minister David Cameron made no comment to waiting reporters neither on his way in nor on leaving the meeting.

Merkel had arrived at the two-day talks saying: "Spying between friends, that's just not done" after reports the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped her calls.

"We need trust between partners and such trust needs to be re-established," she said.

The summit was meant to discuss boosting employment and the digital economy but was quickly overtaken by the growing scandal which has embroiled US President Barack Obama in embarrassing exchanges with key allies -- from France and Germany to Brazil and Mexico.

More could follow after a fresh slew of damaging revelations, with Britain's Guardian saying Washington had listened in on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders.

-- A code of conduct is needed --

Hollande and Merkel called Obama earlier this week demanding clarification of claims the NSA had spied on millions of French phone calls and on the German leader personally.

The French president said there had to be a code of conduct put in place, recalling that the EU had set up a special unit to review the issue after leaks by fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year.

These experts have to "accelerate their work with our American allies", Hollande said, because "this is a subject which is not going away".

"We need to get results," he said, adding that in the end, Snowden's revelations may prove useful.

The new understanding the Europeans want also "applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the US", he said.

While intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism, there is "deep concern among European citizens", he added.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to say whether Washington was at fault.

"We are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity," Carney said, noting too that all nations spy on each other.

"We want the truth," said Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Brussels, as leaders of Belgium, Finland, Malta and others said Washington must provide an explanation.

Letta had a particular interest in the issue after Italian weekly L'Espresso said Britain and the United States spied on Italy to glean data on underwater fibre-optic cables -- with the consent of Italy's own secret services.

Letta said on leaving that leaders had "reached a united position, pushed by Germany and France".

"Cameron had a positive attitude," he added.

The scandal has sparked widespread anger in Europe, with some senior EU officials suggesting talks on a massive EU-US free-trade agreement could be suspended.

Merkel, however, cautioned against such a move, arguing: "When you leave the room you have to work out how to get back."

The European Parliament has already asked for a key EU-US bank data-sharing deal aimed at fighting terrorism to be suspended.

The summit Friday is supposed to tackle an immigration crisis highlighted by the deaths of hundreds of desperate refugees trying to reach Europe's shores but the spying scandal could easily take the headlines again as more revelations come through.

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