The European Parliament has been thrown into disarray over an amendment urging it to ensure the safety of Edward Snowden. The ex-NSA contractor’s name was dropped from the draft, which now merely calls for the protection of whistleblowers in general.
The parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee convened Wednesday to start voting on over 500 amendments to a report recounting results of the first-ever inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal. The 60-page document condemns the scale and the impact of mass surveillance exposed by Snowden, who now lives in Russia.
The Greens, a small faction in the European Parliament, along with a minority of liberals and leftist MPs, had submitted an amendment to ensure Snowden’s safety should he emerge from hiding. The whistleblower has been considered a witness in the inquiry.
The amendment "calls on EU member states to drop criminal charges brought against Edward Snowden, should they exist, and grant him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as a whistleblower and international human rights activist," Der Spiegel quotes it as saying.
However, MEPs in favor of this amendment said that there was no chance of the asylum call being passed, because of intense opposition from national governments, from Conservatives and their allies from the mainstream center-right, and from the social democrats.
“The amendment asking for asylum won’t go through. That was the red line for the right. There was never going to be a realistic majority for that,” Claude Moraes, a British Labour MEP, who is one of the principle authors of the report, told the Guardian.
Another amendment calling on the Americans not to prosecute Snowden has already been dropped. Moreover, instead of mentioning Snowden by name, the report will now make a general call for whistleblowers to be protected.
“The only reason for this whole thing is Snowden and now he doesn’t get mentioned. It’s ridiculous,” said Jan-Phillip Albrecht, a German Green party member who co-authored the amendment.
There has also been disagreement about if and how Snowden should be able to testify to the committee.
Conservatives are opposed to him testifying at all, but MEPs have backed the idea by a majority. His lawyers said that he is prepared to give evidence via a video link from Moscow, but the committee is still wrangling over whether it should be live or prerecorded, or in the form of written answers to questions.
The American government is also strongly against him testifying, and the EU parliament has been under huge pressure to drop or at least water down the report, which is to go before the full chamber in March.
“There has been a huge amount of pressure in the past few weeks from the member states. Most have not been friendly. They regard all this as national competence and nothing to do with us,” Moraes said.