Oettinger faces few tough questions from MEPs
By Eszter Zalan
European commissioner Guenther Oettinger sailed through a European Parliament hearing on Monday (9 January) over his suitability for taking over the human resources and budget portfolios.
The gaffe-prone commissioner ducked some questions about his personal conduct, but was mostly asked about budgetary issues in a two-hour-long hearing in front of a joint meeting of the budget, budgetary controls and legal affairs committees.
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Only a handful of MEPs questioned the German commissioner's credentials after recent derogatory comments on Chinese, women and LGBTI people, and revelations that he used the private jet last May of a German businessman and lobbyist.
Oettinger inherited the commission's budget and human resources portfolios from former Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva who has left for the World Bank.
The hearing was a formality, after the parliament's leadership accepted to hold a simple "exchange of views" rather than a questioning session with a vote in the end.
Coordinators of the three committees will now send their evaluation about the commissioner in a letter to the parliament's leaders.
Oettinger, who spoke German throughout the entire hearing, pledged to carry out everything Georgieva started, and vowed not to allow discrimination in the commission. He promised to work toward bringing more women to high-level management jobs in the EU executive.
Oettinger said he would update the EU's 2014-2020 budget as planned, and outlined how he envisaged the budget after 2020.
He said he would support giving Interrail train tickets to young Europeans, but not at the cost of reducing funding for the Erasmus study program. He also said he wanted to continue the youth guarantee programme after the 2020 budget cycle ends.
Oettinger also said the EU would continue to pay pensions to former UK staffers after Brexit, although he added that the British government would have to compensate.
Some MEPs did tackle Oettinger on his controversial comments and the flight he took with lobbyist Klaus Mangold.
The commissioner had given written answers last week to MEPs' questions, apologising if his comments' hurt people and argued that the flight on the private jet of a lobbyist to Budapest was not considered an official meeting under current rules.
Green MEP Benedek Javor, who uncovered Oettinger's jet flight, told the commissioner that his "personal history is not a guarantee for lobby transparency" in the EU executive.
He asked Oettinger what concrete steps he would take to close loopholes in transparency rules, for example a better definition of a "meeting" with a lobbyist.
Oettinger dodged the question, referring to his written answers and talking about the importance of meeting people in the digital industry to make Europe more competitive.
Answering a similar question by another MEP, Oettinger argued it was difficult to define meetings, since as a commissioner, people approach him.
"You might meet someone in the airport, run into someone, people come and talk to you, so it is difficult to say where a meeting starts exactly," he said.
When another Green MEP, Pascal Durand, asked Oettinger whether being "slant-eyed", as the German commissioner referred to Chinese last October in a speech, or gay, would make it hard to work for him, Oettinger repeated that he regretted those comments.
“I will certainly not allow any discrimination in my personnel,” Oettinger said in one of his most concrete answers.