Espionage could scupper free trade negotiations

The incoming US ambassador to Denmark could be in for a baptism of fire after the US was found to have spied on EU officials in offices in the US and Brussels

The revelations that the US intelligence service, NSA, have been spying on the European Union could undermine the ongoing free trade negotiations between the US and the EU.

Leading EU officials suggested that the historic free trade negotiations, which were only recently initiated during the G8 meetings in Northern Ireland after years of discussions, could be put on hold indefinitely after it was revealed that the NSA had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels and hacked into internal computer networks, gaining access to emails and documents.

“Partners don’t spy on each other. We can’t negotiate about a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade market if there is even a sliver of doubt that the US is spying on our chief negotiators,” Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said according to the German magazine, Der Spiegel. “The American authorities should remove all such doubts as soon as possible."

The information comes from the confidential NSA documents from 2010 that were leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden to media in the US, UK, Germany and Hong Kong.

“It’s a fundamental breach in trust between the EU and the US,” EU parliamentarian Morten Messerschmidt (Dansk Folkeparti) said, according to Ritzau new service. “Obviously, surveillance of the public in the battle against terror and such is acceptable, but the US has been after purely political information and that is completely unacceptable.”

A number of Danish politicians have weighed in about the issue and want the US officials to explain themselves as soon as possible.

Messerschmidt has written a letter to the US Embassy in Copenhagen demanding an explanation and his concerns are shared by Jeppe Kofoed, the foreign affairs spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne (S).

“These are serious accusations. If we have suspicions that the US are spying against us and abusing the information that they obtained, then it is clear that we must speak with their ambassador about it,” Kofoed told Berlingske newspaper. “But the US must ensure Europeans that there are no espionage programmes targeting us.”

The government has remained relatively quiet about the case so far and neither the foreign affairs minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), nor the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (S), has decided to comment.

US officials have said that they will issue an explanation to their EU colleagues, but will do so in a private setting via diplomatic channels.

The scandal means that Rufus Gifford, who was, as rumoured, officially nominated as the next US ambassador to Denmark by President Barack Obama in June, may be in for a rough start in Copenhagen if his nomination is approved by Congress.

The US has been without a formal ambassador to Denmark since Laurie Fulton left in February.

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