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Former Belgian PM lays into US ‘data-collection mania’
Transatlantic relations plunged at the weekend as Berlin, Brussels and Paris all demanded that Washington account promptly and fully for new disclosures on the scale of the US National Security Agency's spying on its European allies, writes The Guardian’s Ian Traynor. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and leader of the liberals in the European parliament, said: "This is absolutely unacceptable and must be stopped immediately. The American data-collection mania has achieved another quality by spying on EU officials and their meetings. Our trust is at stake." As further details emerged of the huge reach of US electronic snooping on Europe, Berlin accused Washington of treating it like the Soviet Union, "like a cold war enemy". The European commission called on the US to clarify allegations that the NSA, operating from Nato headquarters a few miles away, had infiltrated secure telephone and computer networks at the venue for EU summits in Brussels. The fresh revelations in the Guardian and allegations in the German publication Der Spiegel triggered outrage in Germany and in the European parliament and threatened to overshadow negotiations on an ambitious transatlantic free-trade pact worth hundreds of billions due to open next week.
A spokesman for the European commission said: "We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports. They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us." There were calls from MEPs for Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council – who has his office in the building allegedly targeted by the US – and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, to urgently appear before the chamber to explain what steps they were taking in response to the growing body of evidence of US and British electronic surveillance of Europe through the Prism and Tempora operations. There were also calls for John Kerry, the US secretary of state on his way back from the Middle East, to make a detour to Brussels to explain US activities.