Incoming European Commission budget chief faces opposition from MEPs and NGOs

By on 10/01/2017
Incoming European Commission budget chief Günther Oettinger (CC Image courtesy of Jacques Grießmayer)

After three committee hearings held in the European Parliament this week, the European Commission president’s choice of commissioner for budget and human resources faces opposition from MEPs and NGOs – but nonetheless looks set to take up his new job within days.

The centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, the second largest political group in the European Parliament, has said that appointing Günther Oettinger as the EC’s vice-president and finance chief “would send completely the wrong message to the European public”.

Oettinger is known for his offensive remarks and his close relationships with controversial lobbyists. Most recently, he has drawn criticism for mocking women and gay marriage, for describing Chinese ministers as “slitty-eyed” during a speech in Hamburg last October, and for taking a ride on board a Kremlin lobbyist’s private jet last May.

“He has been in the news for all the wrong reasons,” said the S&D spokesperson for the budget control committee, Inés Ayala Sender. “Rewarding this kind of behavior with a promotion would send completely the wrong message to the European public.”

The S&D spokesperson for the budget committee, Eider Gardiazábal Rubial, added: “He does not seem to grasp the magnitude of the pressure facing the EU budget and his answers on increased transparency and lobbying were particularly weak.”

In an open letter published before Monday’s hearing, a number of NGOs including Transparency International EU urged the European Parliament to oppose the appointment.

“At this crucial moment for the EU, it is more vital than ever to have a strong and credible commitment from the European Commission to counter discrimination and act for equality for all,” said the letter. “In our view, Oettinger is unfit to inspire compliance with existing ethics and transparency rules among Commission staff and his peers.”

But during the two-hour hearing on Monday, Oettinger insisted on his commitment to diversity, equality and independence. “I am completely independent vis-a-vis lobby groups,” he told MEPs. “I don’t have any shares in car manufacturers, energy companies or anywhere else.”

He promised to limit the number of new employees in the European Commission, and help women to get top jobs – reiterating his pledge to ensure that 40% of Commission managers are women by 2019.

Asked about how the EU budget would be affected by Brexit, Oettinger said he would look to redistribute missing payments among other member states. Britain is the second biggest net contributor to the budget, after Germany.

He promised to fight for more resources for Europe in the difficult economic environment, and to work out a fair system for dealing with departing British civil servants who have been working in the European Commission.

Oettinger is Germany’s EU commissioner, and most recently held the digital economy portfolio. He was nominated by Jean-Claude Juncker in October to succeed Kristalina Georgieva, who joined the World Bank on 1 January 2017.

MEPs from the parliamentary committees on budgetary control, budgets and legal affairs will report back on their questioning of Oettinger, but their opinion isn’t binding and his new portfolio is expected to be endorsed on Thursday 12 January.

The job involves managing a €161bn annual budget and more than 30,000 staff.

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See also:

UK’s last EU commissioner promises continued security cooperation

EU needs minister of foreign affairs and defence HQ, says European Commission president

EU finance watchdog announces priorities for 2016

About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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