France wants the temporary suspension of talks on a huge EU-US free trade pact after allegations of widespread US spying on European offices, the French government's spokeswoman said on Wednesday. However Paris looks as though it is on a collision course with Berlin, with the German government saying the trade talks should go ahead as planned.
"This is not about stopping negotiations on the free trade agreement, but it does seem wise to temporarily suspend them, probably for a period of 15 days, to avoid controversy and to give time to obtain the requested information," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said after a cabinet session.
The call comes just a day after French president François Holland called for Europe to show a united front in response to the spying allegations.
"Europe must have a coordinated, common position on the requirements we need to come up with and the explanations we must ask for," Hollande said as he met his Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, in Paris.
On Tuesday Hollande said he believed EU nations must decide on a common position before the EU-US free trade talks take place.
However there was no sign on Wednesday of any common position being found as Germany insisted the EU-US trade talks should go ahead as planned.
"The (EU) Commission wants to start negotiations on July 8th, and in this it has the support of the German government," said the spokesman for the German Chancellor Steffen Seibert.
"We want this free trade agreement and we want to start the talks now," he said.
Seibert added that, in its dialogue with the United States, "Europe will find a way to discuss the issues that are very important to us, issues such as data protection and privacy".
Speculation has been mounting since the spying revelations broke that the trade talks could be in jeopardy. Earlier in the week European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the EU could not negotiate "if there is any doubt that our partners are bugging the offices of European negotiators", she said.
However EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters later on Wednesday: "We have agreed today the following: we are committed to the transatlantic
partnership" but want working groups to analyse the impact of US surveillance practices, .
Barroso's office said he had ordered a full security sweep of all its premises worldwide.
And one European Union source said officials could not simply brush the allegations aside.
"This goes far beyond the requirements of national security," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It is a breach of trust and we are at the beginning of something very serious."
Olaf Boehnke, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in Berlin believes suspending the talks would send the right message to Washington.
"The United States is too important to Europe to be treated like some kind of rogue nation like Iran or China but it would be a mistake for Europe if they just carried on with business as usual," Boehnke told The Local.
"European nations should not just allow the US to say 'ok it was a mistake it won't happen again'. It was a violation of civil liberties. To install bugging devices and wire taps in the offices of high ranking EU officials is a serious interference and there has to be consequences even if it's just a delay to the free trade talks."
"The US has a major interests in these negotiations. They are not just one sided," added Boehnke who believes France and Germany's divided stance over the Free talks may just be ploy.
"Maybe Merkel and Hollande are playing good cop bad cop with the United States," he said.
France has taken the lead in raising concerns over the spying revelations attributed to Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Reports in the Guardian and Der Spiegel have detailed widespread covert surveillance by the NSA of EU offices, including diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, as well as at the 28-member bloc's Brussels headquarters.
Germany and France both said the US ambassadors to their countries had been invited to discuss the issue.
On Monday, the French president said Paris had demanded answers from Washington about reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) bugged European offices and embassies.
"We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies," he told journalists during a visit to the western city of Lorient.
"We ask that this immediately stop," he added.