Edward Snowden’s revelations about the United States‘ extensive espionage programme have caused shock and irritation throughout Europe. Not only were billions of European text messages, phone calls and emails tapped systematically by the American secret service, but bugs were installed in the European diplomatic representations in Washington and New York. The question of whether or not the role of the EU in foreign policy ought to be taken seriously or not, has been answered.
Snowden’s whistleblowing has caused an eruption of arguments about granting him asylum in the European Union. Supposedly, one must not allow the Russians to instrumentalise the scandal for their own benefit, missing an opportunity to award someone who has done a great service to Europe. Offering Snowden asylum would furthermore cause a problematic situation for Russia, which would find it difficult to justify keeping him in Russia much longer. Nevertheless, I think granting Snowden ‘asylum’ would be a fundamentally misled move for Europe, and here’s why:
First of all, Europe would clearly employ double-standards if it was to grant Snowden shelter. Would we care about the case at all, if Snowden revealed that the NSA is spying on China? We might actually be grateful about the additional intelligence. The only reason why the case is of concern to us is because it affects Europe. If principles rather than double-standards where employed, all persons wanted by the Americans for treason are potential asylum applicants in Europe.
Secondly, I am somewhat annoyed by the media’s use of the word ‘asylum’. The Geneva Convention on Asylum defines a refugee in the following manner:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The United States is a democratic country, with one of the longest democratic traditions and one of the best constitutions in the world. No group is systematically persecuted, and the US is certainly no totalitarian state. Edward Snowdon voluntarily worked for an agency whose job it is to keep secrets. He knew that if he accepts this job, breaching the terms of his contract may be considered treason. This is not unique to the US, but it is the case in pretty much all states. Snowdon does not suffer from persecution, and granting him asylum would not only go against the Geneva Convention on the matter, but it would be an insult to all those refugees who come to Europe in a serious need for protection.
Nevertheless, the relationship between the EU and the US needs to be reconsidered. While the cultural, economic and geostrategic ties between the two regions are undeniable, there are limits to the strains that can be put on the alliance. The European Commission is currently in the process of negotiating the transatlantic free-trade agreement, which would create the largest FTA in the world. While this FTA clearly serves the purpose of entrenching the hegemonic position of Europe and America in the global political economy, both Europe and America may nevertheless benefit from it immensely. Pressure ought to be put on the US by putting these negotiations on halt until Obama has issued a public statement clarifying the accusations. The US needs to apologise to its closest ally, and an agreement between Europe and America preventing hidden mutual surveillance is needed.
I personally don’t like Snowden very much. He betrays his country, publishes secret information in the name of transparency, goes to semi-authoritarian Russia, and then allows the Russian government to instrumentalise the scandal for its own benefit (anyone else think of Depardieu?). Granting him asylum in Europe ought to be out of the question.