EU parliament vote on spyware gets politicised, implementation challenges loom

EU parliament vote on spyware gets politicised, implementation challenges loom |

A European Parliament special committee (PEGA) dealing with the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware has concluded that the EU should develop a strong regulation framework and hold those responsible for their illegal actions.

However, the final vote got politicised while implementing recommended EU policies remains “challenging”.

The special committee started its work 14 months ago and investigated the use of illegal spyware of Pegasus or Predator in Spain, Greece, Poland, Cyprus and Hungary.

The EU lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favour of a report and recommendations for the EU Commission to take action.

The Greek hiccup 

The committee’s work has been highly politicised and controversial, with perpetual bickering among political groups, lack of cooperation by member states, national interests interfering with the committee’s work, and lastly, a last-minute vote against part of the compromise text containing recommendations to Greece by centre-right EPP.

Although the EPP voted on the final report and recommendations, it opposed whatever was related to Greece.

Athens is holding elections on 21 May, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis from the New Democracy party (EPP) has been accused of being involved in the so-called “Greek Watergate” scandal in which secret services – under the personal control of Mitsotakis – had bugged the phones of opposition politicians, journalists and businessmen.

The Greek premier said he was unaware of these activities, although his nephew and head of his office Grigoris Dimitriadis resigned after the scandal was revealed.

An EPP spokesperson told EURACTIV that the recommendations were “socialist propaganda ahead of the Greek elections”.

For his part, socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar said the EPP “tried to protect at all costs behaviours on the part of the centre-right Greek government that inevitably have to be reflected in the wording of the final report”.

“No member state has been spared. There have been conclusions about France, Germany, Spain… Why shouldn’t there be conclusions about Greece? Because it bothers the EPP”, he added, qualifying the behaviour as “childish and anti-European”.

The recommendations call on Athens to ensure that the judiciary is independent and has the support it needs to investigate the abuse of spyware and that the government refrains from interfering in the work of the chief prosecutor and other independent bodies.

Also read: Chief prosecutor puts Greece’s rule of law to the test

In Greece, “there are the two independent authorities, the ADAE and the data protection authorities, and they are doing their job as they are supposed to, but they are facing harassment, intimidation, verbal attacks, obstruction with every step of the way”, rapporteur from Renew Europe Sophie In’t Veld said.

The text also asks Greek authorities to reverse legislation that placed the Greek intelligence services (EYP) under the prime minister’s direct control and calls for constitutional guarantees and parliamentary control of its operation.

Also read: EXCLUSIVE: Another MEP and journalist the latest victims of ‘Greek Watergate’

Leftist MEP Stelios Kouloglou lashed out against Mitsotakis, saying he put Greece in the same category as the far-right governments of Hungary and Poland.

“He is the Viktor Orbán of the Balkans who exposes the country internationally”, Kouloglou said.

Lastly, Greece is also in trouble as it recently admitted that it exported illegal spyware to third countries. EURACTIV has been informed that the EU prosecutor has intervened in this case.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: EU Prosecutor probes Greek ‘Predatorgate’

Implementation: the next battle

The EU lawmakers may have been quasi-united and fierce in their recommendations; however, they admit that the implementation will be challenging considering the EU Commission’s failure to enforce current EU law.

“We will keep banging the drum because we may be voting tonight, but the problem is not gone. We will be a thorn in the side for as long as it takes”, Renew Europe MEP and the file’s rapporteur Sophie In’t Veld said during a closed-door briefing on Monday.

The next step is the implementation of the Parliament’s recommendations, which will be a tricky task given that “the EU institutions are turning a blind eye” and failing to enforce existing legislation on data protection and privacy, according to In’t Veld.

“The whole idea that its member state authorities, which themselves are violating the law [like seen in maladministration by member states during the inquiry], that whole idea doesn’t fit into the mind frame of the Commission. And that means that we can pass as many laws as we like. But if there’s no enforcement, then those laws have the status of worthless paper”, she said.

She added that when EU democracy is at risk, the Commission and Council “cannot hide behind the fiction of national compliance anymore […] they have to implement the recommendations of Parliament without delay”.

From his side, S&D MEP López Aguilar hopes that the Commission will take swift action to propose new regulations based on the Parliament’s report, just like with the whistleblower Directive, which came about after a Parliamentary committee of inquiry on mass surveillance.

(Max Griera – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos |

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