Talks on the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, the EU-U.S. free trade agreement, started in Washington on Monday despite France's threat to postpone over accusations of U.S. spying on EU diplomats. Germany was quick to come to the side of the United States and indicate that the talks will go as planned. But what exactly do these claims of espionage entail that the French diplomats are so concerned with? Is it possible that this could damage the long-lasting relationship between the U.S. and European nations that the Western powers have worked so hard to build since after the Second World War?
The accusation of U.S. spying on European diplomatic missions has overshadowed the significance of the actual trade agreement. The deal is due to cover about 50% of global economic output, 30% of global trade, and 20% of global foreign direct investment. But then enters Edward Snowden, who claims that the U.S. was spying on a number of foreign diplomatic missions in America that belonged to its rivals and allies. France was the most concerned in regards to these accusations, largely because France does not have the same ties with the U.S. as Germany and the UK do. The spying “targets,” as described in the September 2010 document, included not only U.S. rivals, but also American allies such as the EU mission in New York and its embassy in Washington, the French, Italian and Greek embassies, and the embassies of Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India, Turkey, and Middle Eastern countries. But the UK and Germany, along with some other European states, were not mentioned in the documents. And even though the trade agreement negotiations could potentially be a key factor in reversing the slow economic climate in both Europe and the U.S., France was quick to request a two-week delay for the talks after revelation of the reports.
Germany quickly took the stance that business will go as usual, but it too was not pleased by the revelations of spying. German Chancellor Merkel stated if allegations prove to be true, it would be “unacceptable Cold War-style behavior.” To prevent any further rift the German government also summoned the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy, to Berlin on Monday to explain the incendiary reports. Chancellor Merkel’s spokesperson said the government wants “trust restored." In a meeting that was supposed to bring U.S. and EU relations even closer, the allegations might drive the two powers even farther apart than anytime before. Quotes from Merkel and similar ones from French President Francois Hollande paint a bleak picture for these negotiations that are considered to be potentially historic.
The tactics used by the United States which are supposed to create security and stability around the globe might actually achieve the opposite. The allegations of spying might not only affect diplomatic cooperation, but might jeopardize other negotiations such as the trade agreement that started Monday. French Minister of Foreign Trade Nicole Bricq claims, “This is a topic that could affect relations between Europe and the United States.” Secretary of State John Kerry, spoke out in defense of the U.S. by maintaining that the mass surveillance of allies was “not unusual.” Only time will tell if these “usual” spying practices will further increase world security or create a global sense of paranoia that could lead to an undesirable result for all.