EP to give Oettinger the green light
By Eszter Zalan
European Parliament (EP) group leaders will decide with EP president Martin Schulz on Thursday (12 January) whether Guenther Oettinger, a controversial German politician, is fit to be promoted.
Formerly in charge of the European Commission’s digital market portfolio, he is now tipped to become a commission vice-president in charge of budgets and human resources, including ethics.
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Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker put Oettinger up for the role despite his racist, sexist, and homophobic gaffes and despite a dispute surrounding his flight on the private jet of a pro-Kremlin lobbyist.
The Socialists and Greens wanted to punish Oettinger for his sins, but EP sources said it was unlikely that they would succeed.
Juncker and Oettinger belong to the European People’s Party (EPP) - the largest group in the EP.
Coordinators from three committees - budget, budgetary control, and legal affairs - held an “exchange of views” with Oettinger on Monday, but did not give him a hard time.
According to EP sources, the budget and budgetary control committees supported Oettinger, but MEPs on the legal affairs desk were still locked in debate.
There was some confusion about the text of the committees’ official recommendation, the sources added.
They said the legal affairs committee secretariat had rubber-stamped a text that did not reflect the Socialist and Green misgivings because officials were confused about the deadline.
The approved text “expects a strong commitment” from Oettinger on transparency and non-discrimination from, but says he is fit to do the job.
'Shot in the foot'
Even if the EP had raised the red flag, Juncker would not have been obliged to change his mind.
“All this bears little weight, one way or another this appointment will go through,” Benedek Javor, a Hungarian Green MEP said.
Javor was the man who originally unearthed Oettinger’s lobbyist jet trip.
He said that Juncker’s choice did not serve Europe well in times of mounting euroscepticism.
“This appointment reinforces the impression in European citizens, especially the ones who still believe in the European project, that the EU is all about lobbying and back-door deals”, Javor said.
Th move also “emboldens radical, populist and anti-European political forces,” he added.
“From a public relations point of view, Juncker is shooting himself in the foot with this appointment,” said another EU source, who did not want to be named.
The Commission did not reply to EUobserver’s request for a comment.
Oettinger’s hearing was mainly a formality.
Under new rules coming into force later in January, MEPs would have had the right to oppose a change of portfolio for a commissioner.
But Juncker had already appointed the German in his new post before Monday’s questions, diminishing the MEPs’ role.
Oettinger said he was sorry if his comments had hurt anybody and continued to deny wrongdoing on the lobbyist flight.
MEPs asked few hard questions, with Transparency International, an NGO, calling the whole affair aa “missed opportunity”.