France, Germany disagree on suspending EU-US trade talks
France on Wednesday called for the temporary suspension of EU-US free trade talks over claims of US spying on European offices, but Germany said they should go ahead as planned.
The talks, on what would be the biggest free trade deal ever negotiated, are due to start in Washington on Monday, but revelations of widespread US bugging of European diplomatic missions have cast them into doubt.
French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said they should be put aside until European governments can get answers promised by Washington about the spying allegations.
"This is not about stopping negotiations on the free trade agreement, but it does seem wise to temporarily suspend them, probably for a period of 15 days, to avoid controversy and to give time to obtain the requested information," Vallaud-Belkacem said after a cabinet session.
She said France would consult with its European partners on the matter, after President Francois Hollande this week called for a common EU position on the spying and said negotiations with Washington should not take place without guarantees the espionage has stopped.
Vallaud-Belkacem said the potential trade agreement "is important for the European Union, as for the United States," especially to stimulate economic growth.
"But I can also confirm that for these negotiations to take place with serenity, both sides must be able to meet in confidence," she said.
But in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said the talks should start as planned.
"The (EU) Commission wants to start negotiations on July 8, and in this it has the support of the German government," said spokesman Steffen Seibert.
"We want this free trade agreement and we want to start the talks now," he said.
Seibert added that, in its dialogue with the United States, "Europe will find a way to discuss the issues that are very important to us, issues such as data protection and privacy".
He said there were plans to set up joint EU-US expert groups that would be "tasked with clearing up questions, such as the supervision of intelligence services and their activities, and this will also cover data and privacy protection".
© 2013 AFP