EU demands answers on alleged US spying of EU embassies

European politicians call for asylum for Snowden

European Union politicians at both national and European levels demanded on Monday that the U.S. answer allegations of spying on E.U. embassies, while others called for asylum for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen described the weekend reports in newspapers The Guardian in the U.K. and Der Spiegel in Germany as "disturbing." She said that Catherine Ashton, head of the European External Action Service, asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry directly to respond to allegations that the U.S. bugged E.U. offices in New York and Washington.

"Clarity and transparency is what we expect from our partners and allies and this is what we expect from the United States. The next step is in the hands of the United States," said Ahrenkilde Hansen. However she would not be drawn on whether a lack of an explanation from the U.S. could derail the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the E.U. and the U.S.

Meanwhile Kerry said in a statement that the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) activities were "not unusual" in international relations. "But beyond that, I'm not going to comment any further until I have all of the facts and find out precisely what the situation is," he said at a news conference in Brunei.

Commission Foreign Affairs and Security spokesman Michael Mann said that the current allegations are related to a document from 2010. "The E.U. Washington delegation moved premises in April 2010 and the New York delegation moved last year," he said. "Obviously we always carry out security inspections when we move into new premises."

The Commission also confirmed that a discussion with U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. William Kennard took place on Sunday.

According to the report in Der Spiegel, the NSA targeted France, Italy and Greece, but spies more on Germany than any other European country -- tapping around half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages per month.

As a result, German authorities said Monday that they may launch a formal investigation to examine whether the NSA broke German laws.

"If media reports are correct, then it is reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War. There must be an immediate and comprehensive explanation from the U.S. Comprehensive spying on Europeans by Americans cannot be allowed," said the German Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, in a statement.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said Saturday that he is "deeply worried and shocked" by the allegations.

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Rebecca Harms said she would call on the Parliament to set up a special committee to investigate the allegations. She said the E.U. should cancel its data-sharing agreements with the U.S. and delay the TTIP talks until there is an "international agreement on data protection."

Fellow MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit called on the E.U. to offer asylum to Snowden who he said "stood up for human and civil rights, especially those of European citizens. Granting him asylum now is a question of European values." He added that the Green group in the Parliament would propose Snowden for the European Parliament's Sakharov prize.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
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