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US-EU free trade zone at risk from spying row

October 24, 2013, 18:10 UTC+3

EU Commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship: all EU citizens should be equally protected from phone tapping, not only Angela Merkel

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BERLIN, October 24 (Itar-Tass) - The alleged US tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone threatens the free trade zone agreement between the US and EU, said the chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel.

He said no agreement was to be signed until the US side presented a comprehensive explanation of alleged violations of EU citizens’ rights, adding that espionage against the federal chancellor was outrageous and absolutely unacceptable.

But Gabriel would not like the issue to arrest public attention only because it affected the chancellor.

“The US side has also shown disrespect of the rights of European citizens, which is the main problem,” he said.

Gabriel believes the EU is to work out a common position on the latest events. He recalled that French President and German Chancellor had phoned Barack Obama within a short period of time to complain about spying.

“The US is apparently unaware it has not only triggered a spying scandal, but also jeopardized the values that constitute the foundation of Transatlantic union," he warned.

Reaction of European Union

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s Vice-President, EU Commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Viviane Reding, said Thursday that all EU citizens should be equally protected from phone tapping, not only Angela Merkel. 

The European Commission has joined the German-US conflict over the alleged tapping of Chancellor Merkel’s phone that is gathering steam ahead of the EU summit.

The German side earlier said if the taping was confirmed, Germany and the US would have difficulty going back to the usual agenda.

The US Ambassador to Germany was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry for explanations on Thursday.

French President Franois Hollande and German Chancellor Angel Merkel will discuss the tapping scandal on sidelines of the upcoming EU summit, a French diplomatic source said Thursday.

“The meeting was originally to consider other questions, but the two leaders will obviously talk about this issue as well in order to co-ordinate their response,” the source explained. The EU recently saw several high-profile revelations by a former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of US secret services' operations to intercept EU leaders’ phone calls. The scandal developed after Berlin followed in Paris's footsteps to demand explanations from the US special services. Earlier on Thursday German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the US ambassador for explanations concerning the suspicion the US National Security Agency has been tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

Earlier this week the French newspaper Le Monde published documents saying that in December 10, 2012 - January 8, 2013 alone the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted tens of millions of calls by French citizens, among them diplomats, outstanding politicians and businessmen. In a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama earlier this week Hollande requested explanations of the disclosed practice.

Amid the scandal Paris expressed skepticism about US National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s statement Washington was collecting data with a view to protecting the country from terrorism and from the proliferation of weapon of mass destruction. Experts were not surprised at the news that the US spied even on its long-standing allies.

“The Americans spy on us, we spy on them. All countries, even if they co-operate in fighting terrorism, keep an eye on each other,” a former French counter-intelligence chief, Bernard Squarcini told the French newspaper Le Figaro.

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