Britain and Sweden vetoed plans to launch two working groups to deal with issues of espionage and intelligence with the United States, thus restricting upcoming talks in Washington to issues of data privacy and the National Security Agency’s PRISM program.
Instead of allowing two working groups to deal with the complex issues that have been raised in the wake of stories publicizing the United States’ surveillance of Europeans, especially Germans, there will be just one working group focusing on the PRISM program.
“EU diplomats and officials say the offer of talks by the Americans is designed to enable the leaders of Germany and France to save face following revelations about the scale of US espionage – particularly in Germany, but also of French and other European embassies and missions in the US,” writes Ian Traynor for the Guardian.
However, it’s worth noting that France has a program much like PRISM that they are running as well.
While the talks will deal with PRISM and data privacy, larger issues like traditional espionage and intelligence concerns will be off the table, thanks to the UK.
Britain maintained that the European Union had no authority to even discuss issues of national security and intelligence, a claim which was backed up only by Sweden.
“It was decided. It finished successfully,” said Dalia Grybauskaitė, president of Lithuania.
Grybauskaitė recently took up the EU’s rotating presidency position, lasting six months, and mediated the highly charged talks in Brussels over the past two days.
While Grybauskaitė said on Thursday that the Europeans wanted to hold two separate sets of talks with the U.S., just a day later she said one was dropped, along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
“Intelligence matters and those of national security are not the competence of the EU,” Barroso said.
Comments like that from Barroso are somewhat laughable given the fact that he is an appointed bureaucrat who determines the policy agenda and legislative proposals for the only body that can propose EU laws.
Since it was only Sweden and Britain that stood against the dual talks, it’s quite clear that most of the EU wanted to band together to discuss the issues.
Indeed, the Guardian reports that senior EU diplomats, officials and government ministers all confirmed that Britain stood in opposition to most of the EU on the joint European talks on espionage and intelligence.
Sources told the Guardian that the Lithuanian government attempted to get Sweden to remove their opposition by calling Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, to no avail.
Officials stated that this latest fiasco has highlighted the splits that have emerged within the EU and calls for among pro-EU figures for European cyber defenses.
“We need our own capacities, European cloud computing, EU strategic independence,” said Michael Barnier, a French politician and European commissioner for the single market.
Interestingly, the Guardian states that “senior east and west European politicians and intelligence veterans privately suspect a Russian role in the intelligence row.”
What this alleged role is, exactly, is unclear but they point to the reported presence of the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, in Moscow’s airport and the controversy surrounding the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane.
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