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Snowden speech to EU parliament could torpedo US trade talks

Snowden speech to EU parliament could torpedo US trade talks

Congressman Mike Rogers warns the EU that inviting Snowden to speak would damage ongoing trade talks

A U.S. legislator warned the European Parliament Tuesday that inviting former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to address them could torpedo a transatlantic trade agreement worth more than €2 billion a year.

Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters at the European Parliament that his thoughts on Snowden were "not fit to print" and that it was "beneath the dignity" of the E.U. institution to invite him to speak.

Rogers added that such a move would damage ongoing dialogue between the U.S. and the E.U. on issues such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP, which is currently being negotiated, is estimated to benefit the E.U. economy by €119 billion a year and the U.S. economy by €95 billion (US$130.7 billion) a year.

Parliament has asked Snowden to speak to the committee investigating allegations of NSA spying on E.U. citizens. MEP Sophie In't Veld said that, behind closed doors, visiting U.S. politicians had described Snowden as a traitor and attempted to put pressure on MEPs not to invite him to give a video address.

"It's incredible. They came here to warn us not to speak to him 'or else.' Well, we in the Parliament damn well decide ourselves who to speak to," she said. "It's about time we stopped behaving like a political midget. I hate protectionism, but we have 500 million consumers and American companies are going to want access to that market."

In't Veld said that she believed American businesses were more understanding of European citizens' privacy concerns than members of the U.S. Congress. "Privacy is the new 'green.' When you see companies advertising that they are in a so-called 'E.U. cloud,' you know U.S. companies are going to worry," she added.

MEPs were asked to submit questions to Snowden about the NSA's surveillance program. In't Veld said she wanted to know why he felt the legal avenues to report abuse were not open to him.

However, Rogers likened speaking to Snowden about the NSA to speaking to a thieving bank janitor about high finance. He added that he didn't believe there is mass surveillance in the way it is described in the E.U. "You get three pieces of a 1,000 piece puzzle and you think you have all the answers. Just because the NSA has a phone number doesn't mean it listens to the phone calls," he said.

Rogers maintained that 54 U.S. and European terrorist plots had been foiled by intelligence gathered under the practices revealed by Snowden.

However, Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that although he was unhappy about the allegations of spying, a transatlantic data protection agreement would make negotiating TTIP easier. At least Europe can have this debate with U.S., unlike Russia or China, he added.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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