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24th Feb 2024

MEPs call for German commissioner to apologise or resign

  • Guenter Oettinger - his mentioning of "unconventional ideas" in the Bild interview has not gone down well (Photo: European Parliament)

German commissioner Guenter Oettinger's foray into the busy world of commenting on the eurozone crisis has backfired spectacularly with a group of angry MEPs demanding he retract his words or resign.

In a letter sent Wednesday (14 September) to commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, 151 MEPs said Oettinger's comments "imply the symbolic humiliation of European nations".

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"Mr Oettinger should retract and recant his words, or resign from the European Commission," it added.

The commissioner, whose portfolio is energy issues, made the faux pas in an interview with German tabloid Bild where he raised the suggestion of putting the flags of deficit-sinning countries at half-mast on the EU institutions.

"That would only be a symbol but it would have a high deterrent effect", said the commissioner.

MEPs from Greece, Ireland Portugal - all bailed out by the EU and IMF - have been at the forefront of the complainants. Portuguese Green MEP Rui Tavares instigated the letter while Irish liberal MEP Marian Harkin called the flag idea "ludicrous and misguided".

The commissioner's comments come at a time when the EU executive has been mindful of the effects of careless statements on countries, such as Greece, which have been undergoing harsh austerity measures in order to qualify for EU loans.

The only commissioners that regularly comment on the situation in the struggling eurozone countries are Barroso himself and economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.

On Wednesday, Oettinger's spokesperson entered into a long discussion with journalists about where the flag idea came from.

"I was there when he gave the interview ... he did not say, I propose this, he said yes there are ideas on the table and among these ideas he mentioned also the flags. It was never his personal idea. He referred to existing ideas".

One of the ideas that Oettinger did raise himself was that as Greek authorities "cannot manage" to collect taxes or sell state-owned goods then "qualified civil servants" from other member states could be sent to do the job instead.

They could act "without regard to resistance" suggested the commissioner, who already has something of a reputation for being outspoken.

Last week, when referring to whether the EU should consider the democratic credentials of a country when looking for oil deals, he replied: "If we say we're going to treat only with countries which are full democracies, we may as well just park our car in the garage."

During the nuclear crisis at the Fukuyama plant in Japan earlier this year, he said there is risk of an "apocalypse".

Meanwhile, Barroso's spokesperson said the president will "give attention to this letter and will reply to it as soon as possible".

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