The Western world is on a path to self-destruction. The leading power of the West — the U.S. — is controlling the personal communication of the head of government of the most important of its European allies. This will destroy any trust between the two individuals. Nobody would be surprised if the Americans and Russians or the Americans and Chinese treated each other in such a way, but would we really have expected it from the Americans and the Europeans?

Of course, certain politically knowledgeable individuals have always suspected that the U.S. spies on its friends as though they were enemies. However, Washington has gone too far this time. Now Barack Obama is acting like a president who will tolerate excessive spying practices by his intelligence services. America believes that it is allowed to get away with anything through diplomatic rules of the game and international conventions. Obama’s assurance that the U.S. intelligence services are doing this purely in the fight against terrorism is no longer to be believed. On the contrary, all that counts is America’s interests, which include gaining an advantage through economic espionage.

However, the German government’s indignation about America’s eavesdropping operation does not sound credible. Furthermore, during the summer the chancellor played down the extent of the bugging campaign. Merkel, who is governed by her cellphone, simply does not want to imagine she could become the target of spies herself. Instead of demanding an explanation, she hastily declared the matter to be closed. Arguments with the superpower — the U.S. — did not exactly feature in the CDU/CSU’s* election campaign.

In an open letter, German intellectuals called on the chancellor to protect citizens’ rights from this surveillance state. Now Merkel is obliged to respond to the fact that she nonchalantly tolerated the invasion of privacy of millions of people and only reacted with any conviction once she herself was affected. In contrast to this, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who was also targeted in the snooping scandal, risked a battle with Washington in order to protest against America’s new-found arrogance.

The recent revelations demand a unified and decisive action from Europe. If the Western world wants to pursue the same strategic interests, they will need to resolve the digital dispute immediately. In the age of the Internet, there is no longer room for national sovereignty. It is therefore all the more urgent to agree to binding international legal standards for the digital world as soon as possible.

*Translator’s note: Coalition government between the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union.