21st Mar 2018

Verheugen: I have my reasons for being undiplomatic

  • Verheugen has started a no-holds-barred fight with his own officials (Photo: European Commission)

EU industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen claims he has received "overwhelming support" from member states in his battle against the bureaucratic culture of high-ranking officials in the European Commission.

With the controversy over his recent statements heating up and the commission trade unions asking for his resignation, Mr Verheugen argues he does not intend to back down and is prepared for the intense debate brewing in the commission's services.

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"I never wanted to put into question loyalty, competence or qualifications of the commission officials because I can openly say that our staff is certainly among the best and most qualified in the world," Mr Verheugen told EUobserver.

"The problem is a certain administrative culture that we have here in Brussels, a political thinking that makes it difficult to create the necessary momentum in the institution itself," he added, referring to the internal reaction by officials to his flagship project of cutting down the bloc's regulations.

"Many people still have this concept of Europe that the more rules you produce the more Europe you have."

"The idea is that the role of the commission is to keep the machinery running and the machinery is producing laws. And that's exactly what I want to change," noted the commissioner, echoing his ideas published last week in German media.

Mr Verheugen said that his statements were meant to create pressure among the officials so that they realise he is serious about the issue.

"This was not diplomatic what I have done. I know that. But you can believe me that I have diplomatic skills. A person that has negotiated with certain countries at the same time the most difficult accession treaty in history knows what diplomatic skills are," he said referring to his previous dossier as the EU's enlargement commissioner during the 2004 round of expansion.

"If I decided not to do it and to take off the gloves, you can believe me that I have my reasons."

Mr Verheugen has had to contend with several articles in the German media chiding him for not getting anywhere with his EU bureaucracy-reducing plans as well as critical articles to do with the promotion of his head of cabinet.

Leading daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday ran an article looking into the promotion earlier this year of Petra Erler citing a letter from the FFPE, the civil servants' trade union, referring to his "not very transparent" personnel policy.

Speaking earlier at a business round table organised by the Economist Intelligence Unit in Brussels, Mr Verheugen said that the commission is currently examining 220 existing laws with a view to simplification.

He argued the EU could reduce 25 percent of administrative costs in the next five years which would result in an economic benefit of about 1.5 percent of GDP or €150 billion saved.

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