France condemns 'unacceptable' spying on its presidents

Within hours of the revelations by Mediapart and Libération, in conjunction with WikiLeaks, about US spying on three presidents, the French political world united in its condemnation of the actions. Even the Elysée, which had initially declined to comment when the story first broke, joined in the criticism of American espionage which it described bluntly as “unacceptable”. Meanwhile the American ambassador in Paris was called in by the foreign ministry to make clear France's unhappiness with the acts of espionage on presidents and other senior figures, while François Hollande chaired a defence committee meeting and met a delegation of Parliamentarians at the Elysée. The French president also had a telephone conversation with Barack Obama in which the American president promised the US was no longer spying on French heads of state.  Lénaïg Bredoux, Mathieu Magnaudeix and Ellen Salvi report.

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A chorus of disapproval, from the French government to politicians of all colours, has greeted the news that at least three French presidents – François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac - and other senior members of the establishment have been spied on by the Americans for years. The revelations from Mediapart and Libération, working in conjunction with WikiLeaks, produced strong condemnation from the Elysée on Wednesday even though it had initially refused to comment when the story first broke on Tuesday evening.

In a statement it said: “These are unacceptable facts that have already been the subject of clarification between the US and France, notably at the end of 2013 when the first revelations were made and during a state visit by the president of the Republic to the United States in February 2014.” The Elysée added: “Promises were made by the American authorities. They must remember and strictly respect them. France, which has reinforced its control and protection measures, will not tolerate any scheming that threatens its security and the protection of its interests.”

Meanwhile it emerged that the American ambassador in Paris, Jane Hartley, was called in for a meeting with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday afternoon. President François Hollande also convened a meeting of the presidential defence council on Wednesday morning to discuss the issue and held talks with Laurent Fabius, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and prime minister Manuel Valls. He then held a lunchtime meeting with a group of Parliamentarians to “update” then on the unfolding saga.

Later in the day the French president had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama during which the American head of state promised that  no more eavesdropping was taking place on French heads of state. “President Obama reiterated without ambiguity his firm commitment, made in November 2013 after the Snowden affair, and which had already been evoked during the state visit in February 2014 [editor's note, by Hollande to Washington], to end with the practices which may have taken place in the past and which were unacceptable among allies”, according to a statement from the Elysée. “Senior personnel from French intelligence will go to Washington very soon to deepen the cooperation,” it added.

Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll, interviewed on I-Télé: said: “We cannot have this type of practice concerning the presidents of the Republic. It’s unacceptable between allies”. He added that the government was going to request “details” from the White House. However, Stéphane Le Foll’s trip to America, to discuss the transatlantic trade treaty, scheduled for Wednesday June 24th, was still for the moment going ahead. He added that “France doesn’t tap its allies’ phones” and that “to target France is terrorism”. According to him, France does have a “phone tap system”, but “only to develop strategies against terrorists or people who might carry out that type of action against the country”.

NSA: des écoutes "inacceptables entre alliés" selon le Foll © iTELE

One of the three presidents eavesdropped by the Americans, Jacques Chirac, considers the spying “shocking” and “unacceptable”, according to his entourage. “France and the United States are historic allies. France has always acted towards the United States in a spirit of friendship, trust, independence and frankness … such methods between allied countries and friends are unacceptable,” said a member of the entourage.

The employment François Rebsamen told France Info radio that the revelations were “serious” and involved “abnormal practices”. He noted: “It’s a matter that the president and prime minister are taking very seriously … among friends, this isn’t done”. Right-wing senator Gérard Longuet, a former defence minister, revealed on BFMTV that when he was in office he had been warned about the “probability of being listened to”. According to him, phone tapping by “a major power” is “deplorable”. Longuet said: “The United States must stop eavesdropping on its allies.”

Jean-Jacques Urvoas, socialist president of the National Assembly law committee, and chief architect of the intelligence bill, showed his anger at the news. He wrote on Twitter (in French and English):  “And once again we discover that the United States does not have allies, they have only targets or vassals.”

© Jean-Jacques Urvoas

Meanwhile opponents of Urvoas' bill, due for adoption by the National Assembly on Wednesday June 24th, drew a direct parallel between the US spying and the measures being prepared by France. For example socialist MP Pouria Amirshahi, who will vote against the bill, said: “If we need one more reason, a concerte demonstration of the risks of the surveillance law.”

© Pouria Amirshahi


Former socialist minister Guillaume Garot, attacked what he called “scandalous practices between allies. The United States must explain itself very fast.” And one of those targeted by the taps, former socialist economy minister and current European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, said he was “profoundly shocked” by the revelations:

© Pierre Moscovici

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, co-founder of the left-wing Parti de gauche, used the revelation of American phone-tapping to demand the suspension of negotiations on the transatlantic trade treaty between Europe and the US: “This spying is a violent attack on the sovereignty of France. It’s been pursued even after France’s return to NATO’s integrated command under Nicolas Sarkozy! Bleeding-heart pro-Americans are the village idiots. In such circumstances, the suspension of negotiations on the big transatlantic market is a matter of urgency.” He also requested political asylum and French nationality for WikiLeaks' Julian Assange – a co-author of the Mediapart revelations - and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden “for outstanding services to our country”.

François de Rugy, co-president of the green-ecologist group in the National Assembly said: “The publication of these tapped conversations just goes to show that we need a law that states what intelligence services are and aren’t authorised to do.” This was a reference to the controversial surveillance law that was due to get final Parliamentary approval on Wednesday and which Rugy has backed. However his green MP colleague, former housing minister Cécile Duflot, who is opposed to the new snooping law, tweeted that the revelations vindicated her stance: “When I think of the arguments and intimidation that have been used against those who are against the#PJLintelligence [editor's note, the surveillance bill]... #nocomment”.

Phone tapping, massive surveillance – where are the limits of the intelligence services? The USA listens to France with the complicity of Germany… Europe is in mourning”, commented green MEP Eva Joly.

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