IN JULY, when revelations by Edward Snowden were just beginning to drip out about the breathtaking extent of American spying on its own citizens and allies along with its enemies, Barack Obama, the American president, was still hoping everyone would simply calm down. “Here’s one last thing,” he said at one press conference. “I’m the end user of this kind of intelligence. And if I want to know what Chancellor Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel.”
He was speaking about Angela Merkel, one of the most pro-American leaders of a country that has been one of America’s closest allies. For her part, Mrs Merkel also spent the summer trying to minimise the scandal. She was in the throes of an election campaign and her opponents were trying to paint her as either naive or weak in the face of American violations of German privacy that were being compared to the practices of the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police.
Germans must assume that their chancellor has in fact been bugged and are wondering what they will discover next.
If there was such espionage, it amounts to “a grave breach of trust” among friends, said Mrs Merkel’s spokesman. Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, followed his French colleague by angrily summoning the American ambassador in Berlin. America’s image has been sinking in Germany and Europe ever since the revelations began. Many EU negotiators are losing their zeal to discuss a free-trade agreement with America without clarifying their overall relationship.
On the same day that Mrs Merkel called Mr Obama, the European Parliament voted to recommend that the EU suspend an arrangement with America in which they share a money-transfer database. As European leaders arrived in Brussels on October 24th for the latest EU summit, American spying was not officially on the agenda. Many were itching to talk seriously about it nonetheless.