BERLIN — European countries agreed Wednesday that talks on a free-trade deal with the United States should start in parallel with discussions about NSA surveillance — addressing concerns raised by France.
President Francois Hollande of France insisted after meeting with Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders that trade talks can start only ‘‘at the same time, at the same date’’ as talks with the United States on concerns about its intelligence activities.
That raises questions as to whether the launch of the trade talks will go ahead early next week, as originally scheduled. France had called for a two-week delay.
The head of the European Union’s executive commission, which will lead the trade talks, said US Attorney General Eric Holder had offered to set up ‘‘as soon as possible’’ US-European working groups on intelligence issues.
‘‘We are committed of course to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,’’ Jose Manuel Barroso said. ‘‘But we expect that in parallel . . . we analyze the oversight of intelligence activities, intelligence collection, and also the question of privacy and data protection.’’
‘For a free trade agreement there needs to be transparency and trust between the potential partners.’
For trade talks ‘‘to be a success, we need confidence among partners, and confidence can become better’’ if Europe’s concerns are addressed, Barroso said.
Merkel, whose country has Europe’s biggest economy, said leaders at a meeting focusing on youth unemployment were ‘‘very concerned’’ about reports of US eavesdropping on European allies and the US offer to set up working groups on the issue was ‘‘very important.’’
‘‘Time is pressing,’’ she said, adding that it was the ‘‘right idea’’ to say those groups should start work parallel to the beginning of the trade talks, following months of efforts to find a common European stance.
France, whose Socialist government has appeared less enthusiastic than others about the free trade deal in the past, was insisting on protection for its film and other cultural subsidies.
Reports last weekend that the US National Security Agency bugged European Union diplomatic offices in Washington and infiltrated its computer network angered European officials, who noted that mutual trust is needed in talks on such a huge trade deal. The deal is expected to boost economies on both sides of the Atlantic by removing barriers to trade.
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said before the leaders met that Germany supported efforts to begin the trade negotiations as planned on Monday.
But Volker Treier, a senior official at the influential German trade association DIHK, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper that he was concerned about the atmosphere.
‘‘For a free trade agreement there needs to be transparency and trust between the potential partners. The talks will get harder, the greater the distrust is,’’ he told the newspaper.