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EGYPT: Italy fostering dialogue – ‘DATAGATE’: awaiting clarification, EU-US free-trade talks must go forward

Relations with Egypt and relations with the U.S. in matters of data management were the topics of a briefing by Minister Emma Bonino before the joint Parliamentary Constitutional Affairs, Foreign and Defence Commissions.

Process of constitutional normalisation obligatory, respect for fundamental rights

The minister explained that, in Egypt, a “significant” portion of the population considered the events under way as a “phase of revolution to correct recent deviations”, while another saw it as a “step backward in the democratic transition that limits the freedom of the Muslim Brotherhood”. The minister underscored that she “is never happy when the military comes into play” and that Italy was working so that “the exceptional measures last the shortest time possible” and toward the launch of “a process of constitutional normalisation respectful of fundamental rights “.

Appeal to all Egyptian political parties for maximum moderation and responsibility

Italy launched an “appeal to all Egyptian political parties for the maximum moderation and responsibility in loosening the tensions”, in order to establish a “dialogue capable of achieving consensus on a constitution based on the rule of law and inclusive institutions”. Italy is working toward “facilitating dialogue among the parties concerned” and “launching an electoral process that puts an end to the exceptional measures”. Italy “will once again be Egypt’s partner”, Bonino assured the Egyptian ambassador to Italy. The foreign ministry has employed a special team to monitor the situation of 19,000 Italians in Egypt.

EU-U.S. meeting in Washington

Italy awaits clarification on Datagate, since a relationship of trust between allies is at stake. At the same time, suspending free-trade negotiations set to being on Monday in Washington would run counter to our own interests, stated Minister Emma Bonino in a briefing on the government’s relations with the U.S. in matters of information management before the joint Parliamentary Constitutional Affairs, Foreign and Defence Commissions.

The minister underscored that “Edward Snowden’s alleged revelations” had resulted in an incident that was “delicate and in need of clarification and everyone is awaiting answers, which the highest U.S. authorities have promised”. At stake “is not only the right to privacy but, above all, a relationship of trust between allies”. The U.S. is Italy’s “principal ally”, and protecting this relationship of trust “in in our interests, but also in theirs”. The affair, if not clarified, “would hurt us and them at a moment when we need mutual trust” with, for example, “the Mediterranean in flames”. The U.S. has promised clarification and will host a U.S.-EU meeting on the issue in Washington on Monday. Representing Europe at the meeting will be members of the European Commission, Council and the Lithuanian duty Presidency. Moreover, it has been decided that two groups of EU and U.S. experts would be set up: one to examine the protection of data (U.S.- Commission) and the second on “data gathering”, with experts from Member States that include Italy”.

Italy never involved

As for the former American National Security Agency employee’s revelations regarding two surveillance programmes (telephone, e-mail and internet data gathering), the U.S. has explained that these were “programmes authorized by Congress as part of counter-terrorism efforts and that required the authorization of a judge”, Bonino pointed out, specifying, in any case, that Italy “was never involved, nor consulted, nor informed in this regard”. As for the alleged spying on European embassies, Bonino recalled that there had been ample demands for “assurances” from the U.S. both at European level as well as at the level of individual countries, Italy included, even though “at the moment, we have no evidence of espionage in our embassy in Washington”. The goal is to understand “what protections” are provided within the American national security strategy.

No conditions to grant asylum to Snowden

“There are no legal grounds for Italy to accept the request for asylum” from Snowden; there are technical reasons, since that request was submitted via fax, while it must be done in person. Moreover, “he cannot be granted political asylum either” the minister explained.

Morales flight: Italy could not do anything

In the case of Bolivian President Morales’ flight, en route from Europe, Italy could not have done anything because, “once it landed in Vienna” its request to fly over Italy expired, the Minister reported.

Explanations, yes, but without damaging relations

Bonino concluded by underscoring that it was necessary to obtain clarity on the case of Datagate but, she remarked, “without damaging trans-Atlantic relations”, because that “would go counter to our own interests”. It is necessary “to avoid polemics on the free-trade treaty”, which is one of the “essential instruments for creating a more dynamic market by which to overcome the European economic crisis”, she added, pointing out that this position was “shared at European level”. This affair “has damaged the U.S. most of all”, the minister commented in conclusion, asserting her certainty that the American’s rapid response, of which she had been assured by Ambassador to Rome David Thorne, would soon be forthcoming.

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