EU-US trade talks go ahead despite Prism and civil rights breach

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (on the right), went to Berlin, where he met with Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor. (EC Audiovisual Services, 03/07/2013).

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (on the right), went to Berlin, where he met with Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor. (EC Audiovisual Services, 03/07/2013).

Apart from the largely hypocritical cries by European politicians mainly in Brussels about civil rights breaches, the only concrete and immediate implications that the American PRISM scandal could have had on EU-US relations refers to the Free Trade and Investments Agreement that the two sides are about to negotiate. For one thing European citizens are kept in the dark if those negotiations have already started. As for the protection of private data and civil rights, the whole affair is a laughable matter, because nobody believes that governments show a genuine interest in that. The facts cited below will support this extreme position. Let’s take one thing at a time.

The European Parliament

Already the European Parliament while deciding to launch an inquiry into US surveillance programmes, also expressed “grave concern about allegations that similar surveillance programmes are run by several EU member states, such as the UK, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and Poland. It urges them to examine whether those programmes are compatible with EU law”. The conclusion the average European can draw from this EU Parliament statement is that civil society in the EU (as in the US) is as unprotected as ever vis-à-vis all and every government secret agency American or European alike.

Returning to the trade agreement the European Parliament didn’t have the appetite to put pressure on the Americans where it hurts most; trade. Instead of that during a debate in a house Plenary session, European legislators appeared negative over taking any measures that might hurt our American partners even slightly. Of course there was a lot of discussion about trust and other nice words, but when things reached the heart of the matter, no action whatsoever was taken.

A relevant Press release by the Parliament goes like that: ”The US should come clean over allegations that is has been spying on the EU and its people, the majority of political groups said in a debate on Prism on 3 July. However, they disagreed on whether the revelations should affect negotiations for a transatlantic free trade agreement. Some MEPs stressed the need for facts before judging and pointed out that surveillance was necessary to safeguard people’s security. There is also an urgent need to beef up EU data protection rules, most agreed”.

In reality this “urgent need to beef up EU data protection rules” was always there, regardless what the EU deputies thought about it. Some European politicians though seem even more concerned about the well-being and the ability of the secret services to do their ‘job’, rather than protect private data or civil rights. Niki Tzavela, a Greek member of the EFD Parliamentary group, stressed that “surveillance was necessary to safeguard the security of people: Security is the issue, and security is what governments have to take care of.” Understandably Tzavela wants all possible and impossible security services to continue their ‘work’ quite unobstructed and unaccountable.

Almost like Tzavela, Vytautas Leškevičius, Lithuania’s vice-minister for foreign and European affairs, who spoke in the Parliament on behalf of the Presidency, said: “It happens to be our most important strategic partner and ally, but that doesn’t mean that we should remain silent.” However, he added that he did not want to create the impression that intelligence gathering by a foreign nation could be easily addressed by EU legislation. Lithuania holds as from 1 July the rotating Presidency of the European Council and obviously its vice-minster believes that intelligence is more important than democracy.

The Commission

It is even more interesting to follow what the European Commission had to say about the impact of the alleged U.S. surveillance of the EU on the start of negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Not to forget that Commission is the only EU institution that can take immediate action against the US, by holding back negotiations on the trade agreement.

Manuel Barroso, the President of the Commission when asked about it by a journalist had a lot to say. He delivered a long speech about how important this trade agreement is for the two partners. Then he said “For it to be a success we need confidence among partners and confidence can come better if there is a clarification of some issues that are of very serious concern at European level. I am happy to say that the other European institutions here represented, and of course France and Germany, have fully supported this approach”.

Barroso in reality stated that an American clarification will do the job and Germany and France agree to that. Case closed…and the conclusion is that trade is more important than civil rights and democracy. In cases like that, people can also draw general conclusions about the slippery path our western democracies have taken.

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