German EU commissioner rejects wrongdoing
By Eszter Zalan
EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger has denied wrongdoing after EUobserver reported that he flew on a German lobbyist’s private jet.
"Allegations are unfounded: Due to meetings, I could not take scheduled flight to be in time for dinner [with Hungarian] PM Orban. HU [Hungary] suggested plane Mangold" Oettinger said on Twitter on Tuesday evening (15 November).
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He took the flight, from Brussels to Budapest on 18 May, on a private plane that belonged to Klaus Mangold, a German businessman and pro-Russia lobbyist.
He made the trip, officially, to attend a conference on the future of cars in Hungary at the invitation of the Hungarian leader.
The commission admitted to the flight in early November after Green MEPs filed parliamentary questions in July.
The Commission, at first, told EUobserver that it did not want to add to the response given to MEPs.
It said in an email later on Tuesday that "due to diary constraints he could not take a scheduled flight to be in time for the working dinner with PM [prime minister Viktor] Orban".
It added: “Thus, the HU government suggested that commissioner Oettinger joins the plane of Klaus Mangold who was also travelling to Budapest. This was the only possible means to get on time to the meeting. The Hungarian authorities also paid for accommodation in Budapest”.
Benedek Javor, a Hungarian Green MEP who filed the original question, said the explanation was full of gaps, however.
“Questions still remain on why Oettinger needed to take Mangold's, a Russian lobbyist's plane, who paid for the flight, and why did the commission not make use of its framework agreement to take private jets?," he told EUobserver.
Commissioners are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than €150.
The Commission has an agreement with commercial airlines on using jets for "non-scheduled air-taxi transport services for passengers and their luggage".
With the Commission saying that Hungary had suggested the Mangold option, Javor also asked how come the Hungarian government was so close to the German lobbyist as to offer trips on his private plane.
Javor believes that Oettinger met Orban to talk about the Paks II nuclear project rather than about the “future of cars”, as officially stated.
Paks II is Orban’s plan to build two nuclear reactors together with Russian firm Rosatom using a €10 billion Russia loan.
The Commission has launched legal proceedings on allegations that it violates EU anti-trust and public procurement loans.
"The commission's response confirms that there was a bilateral meeting with Orban and Oettinger … and I doubt they only discussed digital cars," Javor said.
In its response to Javor’s earlier questions, the commission said “the Paks II nuclear project was not discussed” by Oettinger and Orban.
Oettinger is due again in Budapest on Thursday to speak at a conference with prime minister Viktor Orban on the future of Europe and digitalisation.