Bugging devices found in EU headquarters
By Gareth Harding
UPI Chief European Correspondent
BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 19 (UPI) -- Bugging devices have been discovered in German and French offices at the European Union's headquarters in Brussels, an EU spokesman confirmed Wednesday, fueling speculation the United States is snooping on the two anti-war governments.
According to French daily Le Figaro, which broke the news, the Belgian police pointed a finger of blame at "the Americans." However, EU spokesman Dominique-Georges Marro said it was "impossible at this stage" to identify the phone-tappers.
"I don't know who was on the other end of the line," Marro told reporters. The head of the Council of Ministers' press service also confirmed that the bugging system not only affected Paris and Berlin but other, as yet unnamed, EU states.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, condemned the spying.
"Europe is a very transparent organization, our documents can be found online and everybody knows our positions," he said, adding: "People who committed these acts should not have gone to such lengths."
The Council of Ministers said it would carry out an investigation into the incident.
News of the bugging comes just hours after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Council's Justus Lipsius headquarters and a day before European leaders are due to meet in the same building.
EU heads of state, along with the leaders of the 13 countries waiting to join the bloc, are expected to discuss the Iraqi crisis and ways of boosting Europe's sluggish growth.
The EU's 15 member states are split down the middle over how to disarm Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with Britain, Italy and Spain supporting a U.S.-led military strike against Baghdad and France, Germany and Belgium fiercely opposed to a second Gulf war.
Marro said the bugging devices had been found in the Council's central telephone exchange during a routine inspection of the institution's premises ahead of Thursday's quarterly meeting of EU leaders.
Aside from hosting European Union summits and ministerial meetings, the Justus Lipsius building also houses EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the bloc's fledgling military arm.
The discovery of listening systems in Brussels is likely to reignite the debate about how states keep an eye on each other in international organizations.
On March 1 the British Observer newspaper published a memo reportedly from a senior official at the U.S. National Security Agency that asked analysts to increase surveillance efforts on the U.N. missions holding seats the Security Council, specifically the so-called "undecided six" on the Iraq war issue -- Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan. U.S. officials did not comment on the report.