U.S. spying allegations loom large as Brussels summit kicks off

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
October 24, 2013

France, Germany to question U.S. over snooping accusations, Chinese regulator offers rare support for detained journalist, and Poland’s infrastructure investment offers dire returns. Today is Thursday, October 24, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, October 24, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Spy summit. French and German leaders are likely to push a discussion of U.S. spying during a summit, which starts today and is overshadowed by new snooping accusations based on documents revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden:

The two-day Brussels summit, called to tackle a range of social and economic issues, will now be overshadowed by debate on how to respond to the alleged espionage by Washington against two of its closest European Union allies. Representatives of both (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said the two would hold a one-on-one meeting ahead of the 1500 GMT start of the summit to discuss the espionage issue. For Germany the matter is particularly sensitive. Not only does the government say it has evidence the chancellor’s personal phone was monitored, but the very idea of bugging dredges up memories of eavesdropping by the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany, where Merkel grew up.

On Wednesday, Merkel called the White House to speak with Obama over the report. The accusation could prove problematic for U.S. business interests in Europe if the European Parliament approves stricter privacy laws that would affect corporate data collection. Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are among the companies which have lobbied against the proposed regulations. The dispute could also make it more difficult for the U.S. to collect data it says is crucial for anti-terrorism efforts via the Swift agreement, the Europe-based global money transfer system. According to documents revealed by Snowden, the U.S. may have violated the terms of the Swift agreement and  the European Parliament voted to suspend the program. Social Democrat Chairman Sigmar Gabriel said U.S. spying would make negotiating a free trade deal with Washington difficult. U.S. spying allegations have also harmed ties with Mexico and Brazil.

“Please Free Him.” In rare support of journalists’ rights, China’s central publishing regulator expressed concern for detained reporter Chen Yongzhou after the paper he wrote for ran a front-page commentary with the headline “Please Free Him,” on Wednesday and with the title “Again, Please Free Him” on Thursday:

“The General Association of Press and Publishing (GAPP) resolutely supports the news media conducting normal interviewing and reporting activities and resolutely protects journalists’ normal and legal rights to interview,” the China Press and Publishing Journal, which is overseen by the association itself, said, citing an association official. “At the same time, it resolutely opposes any abuse of the right to conduct interviews.” The article said the association was paying “close attention” to the matter. Chen reported extensively for the state-backed New Express tabloid on Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd., saying the company had engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used public relations to defame its competitors, accusations strongly denied by the company.

China has been expanding its crackdown on “rumor-mongering” of late.

A general view of a construction site of a motorway bridge at Mszana near Poland’s border with the Czech Republic, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Grzegorz Celejewski/Agencja Gazeta

Road to nowhere. Last year, Poland invested billions of euros into infrastructure, handing out contracts for road-building in an attempt to boost the country’s economy. Instead, companies awarded the contracts have been ruined financially and are filing for bankruptcy – not because of corruption, but because Poland stuck to strictly to unrealistically low budgets:

This is not so much a story of corruption as of cost-cutting zeal. Poland stuck to its budget and the prices agreed in its contracts. That was the problem. In an industry where firms routinely bid as low as possible and costs routinely overrun, Poland frequently refused to budge on cost. In its drive to keep costs down, it also ignored warnings – including some from independent engineers hired by the state – that designs and plans needed to be changed. The drive to economize was repeated on dozens of projects, industry groups and construction company executives say, and left many involved in the projects struggling.

According to industry lobby group European International Contractors Director Frank Kehlenbach, Poland differs from most European countries by refusing to clarify project details for bidding firms, and refusing to readjust the budget in the face of extenuating circumstances – like finding World War Two bombs on site. Read more on Poland’s roads to ruin here.

Nota Bene: Reuters photographer Ina Fassbender spends the night in a German bunker.

Standouts:

‘And finally’ - Critics say the BBC did not pay enough attention to Prince George’s christening. (The Telegraph)

Corporate mea culpa - Company apologies are on the rise in China. (Quartz)

Forgotten foes - It’s not easy to be a movie villain in Myanmar. (Associated Press)

Overpriced onions - Surging onion prices plague India during festival season. (Time)

Anti-affection effect - Moroccans protest arrest of kissing teenagers. (Al Jazeera)

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