BERLIN (AP) — Germany's defense minister said Thursday that Europe can't simply return to business as usual in its relations with Washington following allegations that U.S. intelligence may have targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone — though he stressed that ties will remain stable.
Merkel's government says she complained to President Barack Obama in a phone call Wednesday after receiving information her cellphone may have been monitored. The White House said it isn't monitoring and won't monitor Merkel's communications, but conspicuously didn't say that they were never monitored.
Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD television the alleged surveillance would be "really bad" if confirmed. "The Americans are and remain our best friends, but this is absolutely not right," he said.
"I have reckoned for years with my cellphone being monitored, but I wasn't reckoning with the Americans," said de Maiziere, who was previously Merkel's chief of staff and Germany's interior minister. He has been in Merkel's Cabinet since she took office in 2005.
"We can't simply return to business as usual," de Maiziere said when asked about possible effects on U.S.-German and U.S.-European relations. "There are allegations in France too."
This week, France demanded explanations of a report the U.S. swept up millions of French phone records.
De Maiziere didn't specify what effects the affair might have on relations in the near term. However, he said that "the relations between our countries are stable and important for our future; they will remain that way."
Leaders of the European Union's 28 countries meet in Brussels later Thursday for a long-planned summit.
Merkel had previously raised concerns over allegations of mass electronic eavesdropping when Obama visited Germany in June, demanded answers from the U.S. government and backed calls for greater European data protection. Her government is striking a markedly sharper tone now, and signaling frustration over the answers provided so far by the U.S. government.
In a statement Wednesday, the government said Merkel called for U.S. authorities to clarify the extent of surveillance in Germany and to provide answers to "questions that the German government asked months ago."
Ahead of Germany's elections in September, which Merkel won, Germany's opposition accused her government of downplaying the affair.
"It's absolute impudence if it's true that the U.S. monitors even the heads of government of close friends," said Anton Hofreiter, a leader of the opposition Greens' parliamentary group. "But it was, of course, also impudence on the part of our government to be completely relaxed so long as ... it only affected the country's citizens, and to make a big fuss now that it is affected."