BRUSSELS -- American spies have been taking it on the chin from European Union officials since it was disclosed in the files leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that U.S. secret agents were eavesdropping on their conversations in Brussels, New York and Washington, D.C.
While spying on your most powerful allies at the start of this week’s trans-Atlantic trade talks may not exactly be neighborly behavior, spare a thought for all those poor NSA snoops trying to translate EU gobbledygook into intelligible English or make sense of the Byzantine workings of the world’s richest trade club. Out of sympathy for our friends at the NSA, Foreign Policy asked our man in Brussels to gin up an A-Z guide to the European Union for U.S. spooks.
A: Ashton, Catherine
The Right Honourable Baroness Ashton of Upholland was appointed as the EU’s first foreign policy chief – or High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in Brussels jargon – in 2009, despite the fact that she had virtually no foreign-policy experience and had never been elected to public office. Foreign-policy wonks had low expectations of Ashton when she took up the post — and few have been disappointed.
The star-shaped Brussels headquarters of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. While renovation works were taking place after asbestos was discovered in the Berlaymont in the 1990s, this reporter found a stack of detailed architects’ plans of the building in a garbage container in the car park of the International Press Center. (No comment as to what this reporter was doing rummaging around in the trash.) Fingers were pointed and action was pledged. But a week later, another pile of plans was dumped in the same trash can. This is the kind of high-level security America’s secret agents are up against.
C: Council of the European Union
Represents the naked national interests of the Union’s 28 member states. Not to be confused with the Council of Europe (Strasbourg-based, non-EU body dealing with town-twinning and telling Russia off) or the European Council (quarterly meetings of EU leaders that have become almost monthly since the financial crisis.)
D: De Gucht, Karel
You can forget the names of most of the 28 European Commissioners, who are like cabinet ministers minus the name recognition, but it’s worth remembering this guy. De Gucht – pronounce it like you’re trying to cough up something nasty – is the Belgian former foreign minister in charge of EU trade talks. And as they like to repeat inside the Brussels beltway, the EU may be a political dwarf but it’s an economic giant.
If you have a sophisticated spam filter, de-flag this word because it has nothing to do with the junk mail you may be used to. It is simply EU jargon for increasing the number of members it has – from six when the bloc was founded in 1957 to 28 as of July 1 when Croatia joined. The rapid expansion of the EU in the last decade has resulted in “enlargement fatigue” – both inside the bloc and in the countries queuing up to join. The Turks are tired of waiting after half a century in the EU’s ante-chamber and Croats were so underwhelmed at the prospect of joining that only 20 percent of them bothered to vote in the first elections to the European Parliament in April.