BRUSSELS: European security experts are set to meet their United States (US) counterparts in Washington next week as European Union (EU) nations, incensed by reports of US snooping, link negotiations on a mega EU-US trade deal with talks on intelligence-swapping.
Italy and France, meanwhile, were the latest EU states to turn down an asylum request from ex US intelligence ana-lyst Edward Snowden, after Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Spain refused to offer a safe haven.
Diplomatic sources said that top security and intelligence experts from both sides of the Atlantic will meet Monday—as EU and US trade experts also put their heads together—under a deal worked out by the bloc’s 28 ambassadors to the EU.
“The idea is to hold a first meeting as soon as July 8, which would help justify not delaying the first session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Talks on the world’s biggest ever free trade deal that are to kick off Monday came under threat after explosive allegations of US spying on EU offices, with France notably demanding their postponement, but Germany keen to press ahead as planned.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso eventually offered a compromise on Wednesday: the trade talks would open but run in tandem with working groups tasked with probing the extent of the US spying.
Britain however held up a deal, sources said, by objecting to the idea of an EU-US intelligence swap. The original proposal on the table was to set up two groups of experts—one on intelligence gathering, the other on data privacy and oversight.
“Our British friends probably don’t know what side of the table to sit on,” quipped an EU diplomat.
Snooping claims by Snowden have cast a pall over the free trade deal that the EU says would add about 119 billion euros annually to the bloc’s economy, and 95 billion euros for the United States—giving a much-needed boost to Europe’s stagnating economy.