It has the potential to create millions of jobs and generate billions worth of trade, yet negotiations for the long-awaited transatlantic free trade agreement starting this week could not have got off to a worse start. Trust between the US and the EU is at an all-time low. Not only has France openly called for these talks to be suspended, but the European Parliament is urging the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and EU countries to consider all possible levers at their disposal to ensure full cooperation from the US. This would include suspending agreements on issues such as the exchange of air passenger data and the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme.
This fraught situation is due to the recent allegations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that the US has been keeping tabs on electronic data from its European allies as well as been spying on EU institutions. The need for security has always been pitched as the reason for gathering intelligence, which explains why countries such as Iran and Afghanistan are among the most closely monitored by the US, but not Germany.
The revelations have shaken trust between the two traditional partners at a time when collaboration is more important than ever. Not only is a historic free-trade agreement at stake, but the two regions also need to work closely together on issues such as terrorism, the environment and promoting human rights and free trade.
Trust won't be restored and the partnership won't return to normal until answers have been found. This is why the European Parliament is launching an in-depth inquiry into the US surveillance programmes. The investigation will be conducted by the EP's civil liberties committee, which will present its finding by the end of this year. It will assess the impact of the alleged surveillance activities on Europeans' right to privacy and date protection, freedom of expression, the presumption of innocence and the right to an effective remedy.
MEPs also stress the need for procedures to enable whistleblowers to lift the lid of serious violations of fundamental rights as well as to provide them with better protection.
In addition MEPs also urge member state to speed up work on new data protection rules and for the Commission and the US to continue talks on a data protection agreement.
Although the situation is serious, it is not unsalvageable. This is why MEPs stopped short of calling for a suspension of free trade talks between the EU-US. Both partners have much to gain from close collaboration, but this will require trust.
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