Protesters supporting Edward Snowden

Protesters supporting Edward Snowden. Photograph by Mike Herbst

Although nobody seems to know what Edward Snowden is up to at the moment, there have been plenty of reactions from others to the earlier revelations about US spying in Europe. Alongside the outrage, there is also a certain gratitude towards Snowden in some quarters for providing information about what has been going on. For example, one of the local wings of the German Pirate Party has suggested that he should be awarded a Federal Order of Merit (original in German.) In France, a surprisingly broad spectrum of politicians are calling for him to be offered political asylum according to this report from France 24 :

“France must give this whistle blower and defender of freedom political asylum without delay,” the Green Party, in coalition with the ruling Socialists, said in a statement. “It would serve to remind the US, as it enters into free trade talks with the EU, that France wholeheartedly rejects the US stance on data protection.”

And in a rare show of cross-party unity, Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front and at the very opposite end of the political spectrum from Mélanchon’s Left Party also said France had a duty to take Snowden under its wing.

If that offer were to become official, it might be welcome. Snowden has applied to 21 countries for political asylum, although he has since withdrawn his application to Russia becauseVladimir Putin imposed a striking condition for offering it:

If he wants to stay here, there is one condition — he must stop his work aimed at bringing harm to our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth.

As this table from The Guardian shows, so far Snowden doesn’t seem to be having much luck in finding a country willing to take him, although now that Ecuador has dropped him, Venezuela remains a possibility:

On a visit to Moscow, [Venezuelan] president Nicolás Maduro said he would consider an asylum request and said the whistleblower “deserves the world’s protection”.

“We think this young person has done something very important for humanity, has done a favour to humanity, has spoken great truths to deconstruct a world … that is controlled by an imperialist American elite,” he said.

Although these questions of asylum are probably uppermost in Snowden’s mind, in political terms the most important development in the last few days has been several of Europe’s senior politicians warning that the latest information about the scale of US spying on them could affect the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, due to begin next week. That’s particularly the case in France, as the BBC reported:

French President Francois Hollande has said allegations that the US bugged European embassies could threaten a huge planned EU-US trade deal.

He said there could be no negotiations without guarantees that spying would stop “immediately”.

The New York Times noted that many in the European Parliament felt the same way:

The European Parliament, which will vote on any free trade agreement, will debate the latest spying revelations in Brussels on Wednesday, with the Parliament’s president, Martin Schulz of Germany, saying that he was “deeply worried and shocked.” If the latest reports, which include American spying on the European Union itself, are true, he said, “it would be an extremely serious matter that will have a severe impact on E.U.-U.S. Relations.”

European lawmakers across the political spectrum warned of a loss of confidence in the Obama administration that would make a free trade deal difficult. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Green Party floor leader, spoke for many when he said that the European Union “must immediately suspend negotiations with the U.S. over a free trade agreement.”

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of posturing going on here. The most senior European politicians surely knew the NSA was active throughout Europe, and probably even benefitted from information it gathered. But the scale of the operations, and the fact that there seems to have been literally no limit to what could be gathered or from whom, does seem to have taken many by surprise.


That could be enough to encourage the European Parliament to make the Data Protection Regulation, currently being drawn up, impose far more stringent terms for companies that want to transfer personal data out of the EU — and that would be a big problem for Internet companies like Google and Facebook. Since data transfers are also likely to be part of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, any such moves would complicate discussions there even more.

Written by Glyn Moody

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