Germany Pushes European No-Spy Pact, As U.S. Backs Out

Berlin wanted Washington to agree to hands-off rules on spying to help mend fences after Edward Snowden. Now Germany is convinced the best bet is a deal with European partners.

Who's listening?
Who's listening?
Hans Leyendecker and Georg Mascolo

BERLIN — The German government is currently negotiating an anti-espionage pact with fellow European Union allies that would prohibit these countries from spying on one another. As confidential talks about such a European "no-spy pact" continue in Berlin, details are starting to emerge.

The objective of the agreement is to ban political and economic espionage among the participating countries. No such current ban exists. Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the center of Britain’s Signal Intelligence activities, is the agency the German government believes has conducted the most extensive data gathering within Europe.

Documents provided by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden show, for example, that the British have been monitoring large numbers of emails sent by German citizens, and listening in on phone calls. The GCHQ is thought to have access to three fiberglass cables via which most of Germany’s overseas communication take place. From the roof of its embassy in Berlin, the British are also alleged to have spied on government communication in Berlin.

The United States has no intention of halting its monitoring of German government officials. Apparently President Barack Obama’s administration believes in taking every possible step to protect the country from terrorism, and all frontiers have long been crossed in that endeavor.

In intelligence circles, France traditionally has had the reputation of specializing in targeted economic espionage — also in Europe. Its foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, is believed to systematically monitor telephone calls, emails and social networks.

In writing?

The pact currently being shaped would only allow monitoring of this type to take place for pre-agreed purposes such as suspicion of terrorism or dissemination of weapons of mass destruction. The foreign intelligence services of all 28 EU states would also agree not to ask other intelligence services for information about their own citizens should seeking such information conflict with national legislation. In the past, such requests were often seen as a way of chipping away at national data protection laws.

The idea for the pact came about in 2013. When first reports appeared of a German-American no-spy agreement, which is now at risk of not being finalized, several European countries expressed interest in joining up. But to avoid further complications of already difficult talks, the German government refused.

Instead, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, invited representatives of European intelligence services to Berlin for formal talks. Within the EU, Chancellor Angela Merkel had been promoting the idea of an agreement on joint standards for intelligence services, and she charged the BND with organizing talks, a government spokeswoman said.

The negotiations are “an ongoing process of confidential talks.” Three rounds of these talk have taken place so far under the leadership of BND Vice President Guido Müller.

A no-spy agreement between Germany and the U.S. had been intended to patch up transatlantic relations after the NSA affair. But it has long been clear that the U.S. is not interested in such an arrangement. Berlin is believed to have recently lost hope for such a pact.

According to sources close to negotiations for the EU pact, the various intelligence services mostly see eye-to-eye on the objectives. But some countries, notably Britain, would rather not have a formal agreement. The possibility of issuing a joint statement instead of an official pact is also being considered.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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