BERLIN: A German inquiry into spying is demanding access to classified information on British intelligence, its chairman has told The Daily Telegraph.
Prof Patrick Sensburg said his committee of MPs could go to court to force Angela Merkel's government to disclose files on joint intelligence operations with Britain. He also called for a Europe-wide agreement to limit powers on data surveillance.
Britain has reportedly threatened to end intelligence cooperation with Germany if the files on joint operations are opened to the inquiry.
"In the end, we can go to our highest court and ask them to decide. We have a right as a parliamentary inquiry to get information from our government," Prof Sensburg said. "But I hope it won't come to that point because that's not a good situation for our partners.
"There's no agreement with the British yet. There are a lot of documents we want to see that we're looking for their agreement on."
The warning presents the latest security threat to British intelligence, after officials said that Russia and China had cracked the encryptions on files leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to withdraw agents.
The German inquiry was set up last year in the wake of Mr Snowden's disclosure that the US spied on Mrs Merkel's mobile phone.
Prof Sensburg said his government was in discussions with Britain to find an acceptable way of sharing the information. His committee is facing a similar stand-off with the US over requests for files on joint operations. "I never expected a lorry full of lever arch files from the British Embassy to arrive outside my office," Prof Sensburg said. "Of course, we're dealing with an issue that concerns intelligence. I understand that a lot of the information is top secret.
"It comes to a question of the branches of government ... We have a duty as MPs to monitor our government."
Prof Sensburg declined to comment on reports that the British Government sent a letter to Mrs Merkel's office earlier this year threatening to end all intelligence cooperation if the files were shown to the inquiry. "I can't talk to the British Government as chairman of the committee," he said, adding that he was relying on the German government to find a solution acceptable to Britain.
Mrs Merkel's government is proposing solving a similar impasse with the US by appointing a special commissioner to read the classified files, according to reports. The commissioner would then report back to the MPs.
The Americans have reportedly already frozen intelligence cooperation with German soldiers in Iraq over the inquiry.
The British and American concerns are believed to centre on a series of leaks suspected to have come from the inquiry. Mr Sensburg denied his committee was the source of the leaks.
The inquiry has found itself at the centre of an ever-widening spy scandal after allegations emerged that Germany's own BND intelligence service spied on French government officials and other European targets at the request of America's NSA.
European countries including Austria and Belgium have opened their own investigations in the wake of allegations.
"I think it's time for all of us in Europe, including the UK, to find a common policy on limits for data surveillance," Prof Sensburg said.