European Parliament votes against inquiry committee on Echelon

Temporary committee called a 'tootthless talkingshop'

The European Parliament rejected Wednesday at their plenary meeting to set up an inquiry committee on Echelon, the Anglo-American spying network. The Green Group had asked for a plenary vote, after the president's of the political parties couldn't decide on the issue. The so called Conference of Presidents first rejected an inquiry committee, and suggested that a temporary committee might be a better option. They asked for the advice of the legal service of the parliament, which stated three weeks ago that a temporary committee cannot lead an inquiry.

The Greens accused the big political parties of obstructing the inquiry and demanded a vote of the plenary meeting of parliament. Today, parliament rejected the demand for an inquiry committee. Instead, they voted for the installation of a temporary committee.

The Greens are very disappointed with the decision, as the legal service stated clearly a temporary committee has no powers to lead a serous inquiry. It will not have the power to call on people to testify and has no right of access to confidential documents. 'It is in danger of being no more than a mere talkingshop,' the Greens stated.

The Greens believe the big political parties have bowed for the individual EU governments wishes not to take a strong position on the Echelon issue. 'The vote proved that most of the conservative, socialists and liberals member of parliament are unwilling to go against the wishes of certain EU governments,' according to the Greens.

The only positive element in the vote is, according to the Greens, that more members were in favour of an inquiry committee (210) than the number of members who the originally gave the green light for the procedure to ask for an investigation (180).

The decision of the European Parliament comes at a time when France has launched an investigation into the Echelon-operation. A public prosecutor has ordered the French DST counter-espionage service to build up evidence accussing Washington and London of an attack on the fundamental interests of the nation.

In Holland, the parliament gave more details about the hearing which the parliament is organising in september on Echeon. They are going to invite specialists from Holland and other countries. Amongst others, Belgian specialist are invited who recently stated for the Belgian Committee that controls the intelligence service that Echelon existst.

After the hearing, parliament will question the Dutch minister of Justice, Benk Korthals. Till now, Dutch government is unwilling to answer seriously on parlimantary questions on the subject. (Jelle van Buuren)