Danish Minister-Turned-European Commission Digital Czar Deflects ‘Tough’ Questions on NSA Spy Row

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Late last week, media reports claimed the Danish Defenсe Intelligence Service helped the US National Security Agency spy on Europe’s highest-ranking officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from 2012 to 2014.

The European Commission’s Executive Vice President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager has dodged “tough” questions related to a spy scandal involving Denmark and the US, Politico reports.

Vestager served as Danish economic and interior affairs minister in the three-party Social Democrat-led coalition government of then-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt between 2011 and 2014. At one point, Vestager was considered by Danish media outlets and pollsters as the most powerful person in the government, even above Thorning-Schmidt.


European Commission vice-president in charge Europe fit for the digital age Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference with the EU commissioner for Internal Market on establishing a European Digital Identity Framework at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 3, 2021

Commenting on the spying claims, Vestager told reporters that she was against eavesdropping, saying, “I think I have always held this view, that: No, you should not spy on your neighbours”.

Yet, when asked whether she knew about the spying during her time in the Danish government, she remained tight-lipped on the issue, only saying that intelligence was outside of her official ministerial portfolio.

“When I was a minister in Denmark, I was minister of the economy and the interior. Being minister in the interior in Denmark is having the responsibility for elections and referendums, and the workings of municipalities and regions from an economic and from a legal perspective. There is no intelligence services inside [the responsibilities] that you’re asking”, Vestager pointed out.

Politico noted that Vestager’s “response about her limited ministerial remit” certainly runs counter to her being rated as more influential than then-Danish Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt in a 2012 ranking by the website for Danish political insiders altinget.dk.

© AP Photo / Patrick Semansky

This Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md.

In an apparent nod to Vestager, a piece accompanying the ranking claimed “the prime minister [Thorning-Schmidt] is the formal boss, but all the same she is only number two on the list”.

According to Politico, there are “two possible scenarios regarding the US espionage and both pose a political danger” to the European Commission’s digital supremo.

Vestager “either knew about the alleged US spy activity through Danish facilities, which would tarnish her transparency credentials, or she didn’t know, which raises deeper questions about accountability in the Danish government and security services during her years in office”, the news outlet noted.

Macron Wants Explanation From US, Denmark on Spying Claims

The report comes a few days after French President Emmanuel Macron said “this is not acceptable between allies, even less between allies and European partners”, when asked to comment on the spy row. He added that he is awaiting an explanation from the US and Denmark on the spying claims.

Macron was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stressed that she approves of the French president’s stance on the matter.

Norway and Sweden have also demanded explanations from Denmark following revelations of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service’s role in espionage against its immediate neighbours.

White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, for her part, told reporters that the US will address the issue with its allies through the “appropriate” national security channels.

© AP Photo / Michael Sohn

Last Sunday, Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to spy on senior politicians in Germany, Sweden, Norway, and France, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Social Democratic candidate Pierre Steinbrook.

The details of the NSA’s massive surveillance targeting top EU politicians were first leaked to the media by US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. The spying campaign reportedly continued for years, with hackers tapping high-ranking politicians’ phones, including that of Chancellor Merkel. 

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