5th Jul 2020

Cablegate: 'Lame Duck' Oettinger kicked up to Brussels

  • Berlin's nomination of Mr Oettinger in late 2009 surprised many (Photo: European Commission)

Europe's energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, has come forward with draft rules to prevent market abuse in the energy sector, while a leaked US diplomatic cable portrays the German as a 'lame duck' politician, sent to Brussels simply to get rid of him.

If approved by member states and the European Parliament, the rules would prohibit the use of insider information when selling or buying at wholesale energy markets, and outlaw manipulation of the market where prices are pushed artificially high.

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Distributing false news or rumours that give misleading signals would also be banned.

"Our energy markets are interdependent. Market abuse that takes place in one member state often affects the prices in another member state," said Mr Oettinger in a statement. "It is crucial to ensure EU level comprehensive rules which guarantee that citizens can be confident that prices are formed fairly and they can fully benefit from the internal energy market."

If the rules are implemented, future penalties will be enforced by national regulatory authorities in member states.

In a telling insight into Mr Oettinger's profile in Germany, the US diplomatic cable , sent to Washington from the US embassy in Berlin in December 2009, says German Chancellor Angela Merkel nominated the Baden-Wuerttemberg (BW) regional president for the EU position primarily to remove an unloved and error-prone figure from an important political stronghold.

"The move was not the promotion of a valued colleague as Merkel's allies sought to portray it. Rather, Oettinger's increasing loss of party support in BW compelled Merkel to push Oettinger out to protect her support base there," reads the confidential US cable released by WikiLeaks.

American diplomat Greg Delawie also remarks in the cable that Mr Oettinger is noted for his "lackluster public speaking style," another possible factor behind the surprise Merkel appointment, commentators said at the time, with the German chancellor not keen to be upstaged during her trips to Brussels.

"Germany has a time-honoured tradition of sending unwanted politicians to the EU Commission," reads the diplomatic note, adding that Mr Oettinger had criticised Ms Merkel's policies on a number of occasions, including her federal support for carmaker Opel.

As an example of the energy commissioner's ability to put his foot in his mouth, the US diplomat points to an "ill-advised 2007 defence of a Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) predecessor as an opponent of the National Socialist regime, despite his documented pro-Nazi war record."

In another apparent blunder since taking over the EU position in February of this year, Mr Oettinger failed to show up to a crucial meeting of EU commissioners over the summer where a surprise decision was taken to end EU subsidies to loss-making coal mines in 2014, several years earlier than had been expected.

Although his presence at the Brussels meeting is unlikely to have tipped the voting balance, Ms Merkel was reportedly furious at Mr Oettinger's decision to attend a mid-level conference in Washington, rather than defend the interests of coal-producing Germany.

Among the few positive remarks, the US cable notes that Mr Oettinger is said by industry sources in Baden-Wuerttemberg to be an efficient behind-the-scenes negotiator, but the diplomat then proceeds to question his experience in energy policy as a whole, despite a pro-nuclear stance which endears him to EU policymakers, bent on energy diversification.

Last month the German commissioner came forward with plans to tackle Europe's nuclear waste by burying it deep underground, a move environmentalists and green politicians criticised as effectively promoting the controversial energy source. Other plans to create a single European energy grid have been broadly welcomed.

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