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Europe angry about spying -- but enough to jeopardize a trade pact?

French President Francois Hollande attends a press conference after the European Union leaders summit on June 28, 2013 at the EU headquarters in Brussels.

The latest batch of documents released by former U.S. intelligence  contractor Edward Snowden seems to have touched a raw nerve in Europe. The allegations -- published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel -- that the U.S. bugged various European embassies sparked apparent fury in Berlin, Brussels and Paris.

The French president Francois Hollande said the revelations could severely damage transatlantic relations and derail the planned multi-billion dollar EU-U.S. free trade deal. Hollande called on the U.S. to guarantee that the spying has stopped or face the prospect of Europe pulling out of the trade talks scheduled to start next week.

So could the biggest bilateral trade deal in history be on the brink of collapse?

“There’s  so much positive benefit to be gained by both sides in economic terms that I’d be very surprised if the talks just stopped now,” says Jim Killick a trade attorney with law firm White and Chase.

The free trade deal could generate $600 billion a year and create more than a million new jobs in both the U.S. and in Europe. Killick does not believe the spy scandal could  put that at risk.

“In the big scheme of things, I don’t think this should disrupt the talks,” he said.

Some observers question whether the European anger over Snowden’s revelations is as genuine as it seems. Sir Christopher Mayer, a former British Ambassador to Washington, says few governments have clean hands when it comes to espionage.  

“I suspect that in Paris and in Berlin if you dug very deeply to find out what their intelligence services  are up to, you might come up with revelations as exciting as those that Edward Snowden has revealed to Der Spiegel,” says Mayer.

The European anger may be for  public consumption. It may be designed to wrongfoot the U.S. ahead of the trade talks. But the talks seem likely to go ahead.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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