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Prism spying row hangs over EU-US free-trade talks

media Germans protest over Snowden's revelations last week Reuters/Thomas Peter

The US and the European Union start free-trade talks in Washington Monday but the US’s alleged surveillance of EU offices has casts its shadow over the negotiations. Other touchy questions include GM foods and a European "cultural exception".

Last week France called for the suspension of the talks after whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations led to claims that the US used its Prism programme to spy on its European allies.

Keen to open up a market of 800 million consumers, other EU countries did not go along with the French demand but parallel discussions on the revelations will be held.

European power players France and Germany have so far not seen eye to eye on how to go about the talks. Germany has given the green light, while France says negotiations should not proceed without more clarity from the Americans.

France’s government wants answers on the US’s alleged spying on EU offices, and President François Hollande says they need at least 15 days to get the necessary information.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said it was inappropriate to hold trade talks in the current climate of distrust.

The US Attorney General and the head of the European Commission have promised to set up working groups as soon as possible to tackle the intelligence issues.

France has also held out for continued protection for culture to protect Europe’s audiovisual sector.

A further point of discord is likely to be GM foods, which France and other European countries are trying to limit on the grounds that the harm they could cause has not yet been established, and European access to US public contracts.

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