European leaders spent much of last week in a dither about allegations that the United States has been spying on their communications, with the European Parliament even debating the matter midweek.
And while some of the reaction was understandable, for reasons having to do with both high principle and sordid politics, it was disappointing to see key officials use the spying as an excuse to threaten talks on a free trade pact between Europe and the U.S.
Either a free trade agreement is good for the U.S. and Europe or it is not. And if it is -- as we certainly believe it would be -- then scuttling a deal out of anger with the U.S. over spying would be mindlessly counterproductive.
We're rather surprised, in the first place, that European leaders, who often seem to pride themselves on being more worldly and pragmatic than their counterparts on this side of the Atlantic, would profess surprise that the U.S. would be spying on allies. Aren't such tactics taken for granted?
Of course they are. As former British diplomat Denis MacShane noted in Foreign Policy magazine, "When I was Tony Blair's Europe minister, I was given very clear instructions that I should not use my cell phone in Paris because a transcript of what I said would be on a French minister's desk within 15 minutes."
And he noted the Guardian has reported that "the Brits spied on those who participated in the 2009 G-20 summit in London," in which President Obama participated.
But perhaps, as The New York Times explained, "It was not so much the fact of the spying as its sheer scale that alarmed European leaders and others here. Elmar Brok, an outspoken German who is chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that 'the spying has reached dimensions that I did not think were possible for a democratic country.' "
Or, as another official quoted in the article succinctly explained, "We all spy, but the difference here is the scale -- up to 60 million connections in Germany in a day!"
The resentment, in other words, may be not so much that the U.S. is doing something that the Europeans won't do as that the U.S. is doing something Europeans can't do.
But to repeat the original point, what does all this hand-wringing over spying have to do with sound economic policy?
The Fiscal Times last week noted that the free-trade deal "is expected to add $157 billion to the EU economy and $133 billion to the U.S. economy," and yet is now in jeopardy because of outrage against the U.S.
The article's headline, "How Edward Snowden Could Derail the Global Economy," was obviously an exaggeration. Still, nearly $300 billion in collective benefits is hardly something to sniff at, either.
The Denver Post, July 7