EU-US trade talks to open parallel to spying probe: Barroso

Free trade talks between the EU and US will open but run in tandem with working groups tasked with probing the extent of US spying, the head of the EU executive said Wednesday.

"We have agreed today the following: we are committed to the transatlantic partnership" but want working groups to analyse the impact of US surveillance practices, EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters.

France and Germany, Europe's two biggest economies, earlier struck a note of discord when Paris pushed for the EU to delay Monday's opening of the trade talks while Berlin backed going ahead as planned.

Barroso said, after talks among EU leaders in Berlin, that Washington had already signalled its willingness to set up the working groups.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was the "right idea" for negotiations on the trade pact to get underway while the groups begin their work at the same time. "Time is pressing," she told a joint press conference of EU leaders.

Hollande for his part described the agreement as a "compromise" but said it was the right one.

"There can't be opening of trade negotiations without there being at the same time... an opening of discussions with the US on the activity of the intelligence services in our countries and protection of private data," he said.

The EU-US trade talks -- on what would be the biggest free trade agreement ever negotiated -- are due to start in Washington on Monday, but the revelations of US bugging of European diplomatic missions had cast them into doubt.

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