Wednesday

27th Oct 2021

German commissioner provokes French wrath

  • Is Oettinger's communication under control by Juncker's spin doctors? (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

German commissioner Guenther Oettinger has drawn ire from French politicians after urging budget rigour and calling France a "deficit recidivist", in an op-ed published in French daily Les Echos on Thursday (20 November).

The same text, but using the phrase "the issue of France and its high budget deficit" instead of "recidivist" appeared in the Financial Times a few hours later.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The message comes a few days before the European Commission is to give its opinion on 18 national budgets, with France's growing deficit fast-becoming a question of credibility for the EU executive's post-crisis role in economic scrutiny.

Oettinger's words struck a nerve in France because he is German and because his portfolio has nothing to do with budget deficits - it is "digital economy and society."

Instead, it is a Frenchman and former finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, who is the commissioner in charge of economics and potential sanctions for deficit sinners.

French finance minister Michel Sapin said Friday that Oettinger's comments were "not constructive". Other voices within the French Socialist Party went further.

Oettinger's "off-topic diatribe deserves a resignation", said the French Socialist Party's secretary general, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.

"This aggression goes beyond his prerogatives and especially beyond the necessary reservation of a commissioner. This attitude reinforces those who want France to leave Europe. It should be punished," he added.

French Socialist MEP Pervenche Beres also criticised Oettinger, saying that an "EU commissioner is not the spokesman of his country."

A spokesman for commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday that he "was aware" of the text.

He noted that commissioners are "politicians who can express themselves freely", but also that the commission takes its decisions, whether on budgets or other issues, as a group-of-28.

It is not the first time that Oettinger has behaved more like a German politician than an EU commissioner.

In 2011, he told German tabloid Bild that EU institutions should put the flags of the deficit countries at half mast as a "deterrent effect". Over 150 MEPs reacted back then, asking for his resignation.

But it is unlikely the gaffe-prone German acted on his own initiative this time around, Brussels insiders told EUobserver.

"I'd be very surprised if it wasn't co-ordinated with Juncker's cabinet," said one EU source, noting that Oettinger's line was the same as the commission's official one - that France needs to rein in spending.

Another EU official had "the same suspicion".

The contact said that acting alone on this topic - publication in Les Echos and the Financial Times when it's not his portfolio - "would mean that the German commissioner does not accept that his communication is controlled by Juncker's spin doctors".

As for the commission's public verdict on the national budgets of eurozone countries, this will have to happen next week, before 30 November.

Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas on Friday said "there is a debate that will come" on Tuesday in the college of commissioners when they discuss the eurozone budgets.

He said the date is not yet fixed on when Brussels' final decision will be published.

EU still undecided on France deficit

Hawks and doves within the EU commission and member states continue to disagree on how to deal with France's budget deficit, seen as a credibility test for the EU.

News in Brief

  1. US to add last three EU states to visa-waiver list
  2. German ministry gives thumbs up to Russian pipeline
  3. EU regulator foresees endless battles with Facebook
  4. UK fears three migrants drowned in Channel
  5. Israel joins EU science scheme, despite Palestine clause
  6. Upcoming flu season 'could be severe', EU agency warns
  7. Ukraine wins Dutch case on Crimea gold
  8. Most Poles want Warsaw to back down in EU dispute

Vietnam jails journalist critical of EU trade deal

A journalist who had demanded the EU postpone its trade deal with Vietnam until human rights improved has been sentenced to 15 years in jail. The EU Commission says it first needs to conduct a detailed analysis before responding.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Environment ministers continue dogfight on energy price hike
  2. Most lawmakers unhappy with lead MEP's asylum bill
  3. More transparency on EU media owners planned for 2022
  4. Europe's deadly border policies
  5. 'Brussels So White' needs action, not magical thinking
  6. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  7. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  8. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us