Vestager dodges tough questions on US spy scandal – POLITICO


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Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s celebrity flagbearer for digital rights, is going through awkward questions about hi-tech snooping that allegedly passed off whereas she was seen as Denmark’s strongest politician.


Danish media outlet DR reported Sunday that Copenhagen helped American spies harvest intelligence from Germany, Sweden and different European international locations between 2012 and 2014 — a interval when Vestager was extensively seen as probably the most influential participant in authorities, in her function as de facto deputy prime minister, with a seat on a committee for safety oversight.

That timeline threatens to embarrass the European Commission’s digital supremo, who’s finest recognized internationally for her landmark antitrust circumstances towards the likes of Google and Apple. There are two potential situations relating to the U.S. espionage and each pose a political hazard. She both knew concerning the alleged U.S. spy exercise by way of Danish amenities, which might tarnish her transparency credentials, or she did not know, which raises deeper questions about accountability within the Danish authorities and safety companies throughout her years in workplace.

The revelations have gone down badly for Denmark. France’s President Emmanuel Macron mentioned he was “waiting for answers” from Copenhagen and Washington, whereas U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden has added gas to the hearth by alleging Denmark collaborated in a U.S. plot to kidnap him in 2013.

Sweden’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist additionally informed POLITICO he anticipated a correct response from Copenhagen.

“The media reports on the alleged electronic surveillance of Swedish politicians and officials is something I take seriously,” Hultqvist mentioned. “I have asked the Danish minister of defence whether platforms in Denmark have been used for surveillance of Swedish interests, or if other actors have used Danish platforms as a means to conduct surveillance in Sweden.”

Patrick Breyer, a German Pirate Party member of the European Parliament within the Greens group, additionally insisted there was a stress between the Danish report and the commissioner’s function. “I think that Ms. Vestager will have to face questions and have to answer them even if it is uncomfortable because the Commission itself is in many respects proposing things regarding surveillance, including mass surveillance and data retention,” he mentioned.

Cryptic on the cryptographers

For now, Vestager is remaining sphinx-like on what she knew. On some extent of precept, she mentioned that she was anti-eavesdropping. “I think I have always held this view, that: No, you should not spy on your neighbors,” she informed reporters on Thursday.

But she was evasive when requested whether or not she knew concerning the spying throughout her time in authorities, solely saying that intelligence didn’t fall underneath her official ministerial portfolio.

“When I was a minister in Denmark, I was minister of the economy and the interior. Being minister in the interior in Denmark is having the responsibility for elections and referendums, and the workings of municipalities and regions from an economic and from a legal perspective. There is no intelligence services inside [the responsibilities] that you’re asking,” she mentioned in response to a query on whether or not she knew concerning the spying.  

Vestager didn’t tackle what perception, if any, her function on the federal government safety committee gave her.

The problem with Vestager’s response about her restricted ministerial remit is that she was universally acknowledged to carry sway within the 2011-2015 authorities of Helle Thorning-Schmidt that reached far past her formal portfolio. Vestager took on her competitors function in Brussels in 2014.

Despite being the chief of the smaller social gathering, she was rated as extra influential than Thorning-Schmidt in a intently watched 2012 ranking by, a web site for Danish political insiders. 

“The prime minister is the formal boss, but all the same she is only number two on the list,” a bit accompanying the listing mentioned.

Danish specialists contacted by POLITICO mentioned that the query of Vestager’s involvement in intelligence-related decision-making in 2012-2014 was troublesome to evaluate, not least as a result of the categorised materials which DR has reported on to date has mentioned little about political oversight. 

“We don’t have that many hard facts on this,” mentioned Thomas Wegener Friis, an intelligence researcher on the University of Southern Denmark. “It is rather difficult currently to say for sure what and if Vestager knew.”

The specialists mentioned it could possibly be that Vestager’s senior function in authorities nonetheless didn’t entail entry to extremely delicate operational intelligence. That could possibly be as a result of Thorning-Schmidt withheld it from her, or as a result of Thorning-Schmidt additionally didn’t know concerning the alleged NSA operation, probably as a result of intelligence businesses have been withholding it from her. Thorning-Schmidt, who now co-chairs an oversight board at social media firm Facebook, couldn’t be reached for remark.

Case not closed

With the European Commission searching for to push new regulation of areas corresponding to surveillance and confidentiality of communication networks, it will be important we all know what Vestager’s “take” is on the U.S. and Danish spying allegations, mentioned Breyer, the German MEP. 

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP with the liberal Renew Europe grouping, mentioned it was excessive time that alleged intra-European spying obtained correct consideration, one thing she mentioned had not occurred over latest years. 

“The factor now could be, will we wish to be periodically outraged each time one thing like this surfaces, or are we really going to sort out it?” in ‘t Veld requested.

For now, many of the strain has fallen on Denmark’s present Defense Minister Trine Bramsen, who has solely been within the job since 2019. She mentioned that “systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.”

That didn’t assuage considerations, and the questions look unlikely to only go away.

In Sweden, Defense Minister Hultqvist mentioned the difficulty was being examined and his phrases urged the matter might dangle over Vestager and different Danish leaders previous and current for a while to come back. 

“The process of gathering information about these media reports is now underway and we must allow this process to take its time,” he mentioned.

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