Are we becoming a Europe of spies?

A week ago, the influential magazine The New Yorker published an in-depth study conducted by the interdisciplinary Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which showed that at least 65 Catalan political and social leaders had been spied on help of the now notorious Pegasus spyware.

It is arguably the biggest political espionage case ever uncovered – one that implicates Spain alongside other countries facing similar scandals, such as Poland and Hungary.

This shows that the use of this type of spyware is increasingly widespread in the European Union.

This happens in states that call themselves democracies, but fail to protect the basic rights of their citizens.

We note with concern that the democratic space is shrinking in many parts of Europe, and that is why those of us who represent European citizens and defend the fundamental values ​​of the Union must show some self-criticism.

Are we doing enough to prevent the authoritarian rollback of some Member States?

The answer is that the EU institutions have certainly not provided a sufficiently clear, forceful and effective response to the violations of our rights and freedoms that we are witnessing within our European borders.

This contrasts with the vehement denunciations that one sometimes hears when such abuses occur outside the EU.

And this is how, little by little, the European project and its credibility are eroding.

We cannot afford to see our Europe wander into a society of surveillance and control in which States have access to all our information and communications, to use them against us when it suits them.

There are toxic examples of this kind of behavior in Russia and China in particular – these are precisely the examples we do not want our own governments to follow.

Cui bono?

This time, the espionage appears to have been perpetrated by the Spanish state – after all, who else would spend millions of euros spying on the Catalan independence movement, if not Spain?

And it struck at the very heart of European democracy — the European Parliament (EP).

I myself was spied on during my mandate as an MEP. My communications with other MPs, advisers, aides and parliamentary staff have been totally exposed.

This means that I am a direct victim, but it also means that all my other colleagues in the EP are collateral victims.

Let us not forget that we MEPs represent the democratic will of Europeans, the will of 450 million citizens, which has been violated by espionage by the government of a single Member State.

The #CatalanGate scandal is massive and must be condemned, as a Washington Post editorial called for last week.

It is not only because we, the victims, have the right to know the truth and to know who is spying on us, why they are spying on us and where our information is, but also because we must repair the damage done to the European democracy.

In the EU, such acts, which normally belong to the most illiberal countries, must have consequences.

The day after the discovery of the scandal, the EP set up a commission of inquiry into Pegasus.

Fortunately, this initiative benefits from a broad consensus among the main political groups in the European Parliament.

This new instrument should direct us towards a clarification of the many cases revealed throughout the European Union, but also towards a European legal framework which will contribute to avoiding that there are new victims.

It should also determine how illegal espionage, which costs millions, is paid for. Well, we already know who probably pays: the European taxpayer.

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