The European Parliament’s decision to hear the former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden is one more turn of the screw in an ongoing case of discord between Washington and Brussels: espionage. The American agency’s interception of data has, for some time now, been an embarrassment hampering trans-Atlantic relations. But the Snowden case has raised tension to new levels and, once again, the European Parliament is the most active institution in this regard.
To offer such a loudspeaker to a man who is now one of the American administration’s most-wanted fugitives is, at first glance, a valuable gesture of friendship on the part of the European Union. This was the theme of an angry speech by US Congressman Mike Rogers, who accuses Snowden of having put lives in danger; but this politician seems to forget that the data divulged by the ex-analyst have revealed that Washington was spying on European leaders — among them, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — as part of a widespread practice that took no account of the close ties of cooperation and friendship that join Washington and Europe. Ties that so far have not been considered sufficient reason for the Obama administration to offer the apology that would seem to be in order given the behavior of its intelligence services.
It is obvious that this case has further nourished European distrust of its “American friend”
It is possible that technical difficulties — Snowden does not want a live videoconference that might allow him to be geo-located — and the pressure of the conservative European Popular Party, presently a majority in the European Parliament, may finally prevent the hearing, agreed upon last week by the Civil Liberties Committee, from taking place. But it is obvious that this case has further nourished European distrust of its “American friend.” The protests have been mostly lukewarm, but the scandal is casting a shadow on the negotiations for the EU-US trade treaty, which stands to be the world’s biggest in terms of volume, and the European Parliament has a right of veto over the much sought-after treaty.
Obama has promised to revise the American espionage system. Internal pressure from opinion-makers and technological firms is making itself felt, and there is an important current of internal opinion in favor of such an overhaul, the details of which are to be announced on Friday. Finally, the fact that, after 43 years, the people who leaked important FBI documents have at last stepped forward into public light can be seen as another development in this American trend toward defense of personal liberties against the all-powerful government of Washington.