French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among several other European leaders, sharply criticized the National Security Agency’s alleged practice of eavesdropping on its allies in the European Union, which the German newspaper Der Spiegel first reported on Saturday.
Through her spokesman Steffan Seibert, Merkel complained that such espionage should only be used against enemies.
“The bugging of friends is unacceptable. That cannot happen at all,” Seibert said, according to CNN. “We are no longer in the Cold War.”
“We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies,” Hollande told French publication France24. “We ask that this immediately stop.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the news left him “deeply worried and shocked,” and would have a “severe impact” on the future relationship between the two global powers.
Both the French and German governments either plan to meet with their American ambassadors or have already done so.
The NSA surveillance practices, only the latest insight into the world of American counter-terrorism and espionage efforts leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, 30, apparently included bugging EU buildings in Washington D.C., New York, and even abroad in Brussels, Belgium.
Secretary of State John Kerry sought to minimize tensions by characterizing the bugging as standard operating procedure in the modern world.
“All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations,” The Hill reported Kerry as telling reporters in Brunei. “Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that.”
The revelations could have serious practical implications: major trade talks between the U.S. and the EU, the world’s two largest economies, were scheduled at the recent G8 meeting in Northern Ireland and could start as early as next week. It remains unclear if EU anger will delay or even prevent the talk.
Seibert commented that while the EU was eager to see such talks succeed, “Mutual trust is necessary in order to come to an agreement.”
French Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq was even more blunt: “This is a topic that could affect relations between Europe and the United States,” she told Agence France Presse.