Günther Oettinger

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Günther Oettinger
Guenther h oettinger 2007.jpg
European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society
Incumbent
Assumed office
1 November 2014
President Jean-Claude Juncker
Preceded by Neelie Kroes (Digital Agenda)
European Commissioner for Energy
In office
9 February 2010 – 1 November 2014
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Andris Piebalgs
Succeeded by Miguel Arias Cañete (Climate Action and Energy)
Maroš Šefčovič (Energy Union)
Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg
In office
21 April 2005 – 9 February 2010
Preceded by Erwin Teufel
Succeeded by Stefan Mappus
Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in Baden-Württemberg
In office
29 April 2005 – 20 November 2009
Preceded by Erwin Teufel
Succeeded by Stefan Mappus
Personal details
Born (1953-10-15) 15 October 1953 (age 61)
Stuttgart, West Germany
(now Germany)
Political party Christian Democratic Union
Spouse(s) Inken née Stange (1994–2007)
Children 1
Alma mater University of Tübingen
Religion Protestant Christian
Website Official website

Günther Hermann Oettinger (born 15 October 1953) is a German politician and a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Oettinger was appointed European Commissioner for Energy in the European Commission on 10 February 2010[1] (since 1 July 2014 also Vice President of the Barroso II commission) and is affiliated with the European People's Party (EPP). He served as Minister-President of the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg between 2005 and 2010 and chairman of the CDU Baden-Württemberg from 2005 until 2010.

Early life and education[edit]

Oettinger studied Law and Economics at the University of Tübingen. He worked in an accounting and tax consulting business, before being licensed in 1984 to practice law and worked in this sector until 1988.

Political career[edit]

Oettinger embarked in politics as a member of the Junge Union, the youth organisation of the CDU; he was chairman of the organization in Baden-Württemberg from 1983 to 1989. From 2001 to 2005 he served as Chairman of the CDU Party in Nordwürttemberg (North Württemberg), and has also been CDU Chairman of the Federal Committee for Media Politics. Oettinger was elected as a Member of the State Parliament (Landtag) of Baden-Württemberg in 1984. From 1991 to 2005 he was Leader of the CDU Parliamentary Group.

Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, 2004-10[edit]

In October 2004 the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg Erwin Teufel announced that he was to step down as Minister President and Chairman of the Baden-Württemberg CDU, effective 19 April 2005. Oettinger was elected as his successor by CDU internal party pre-elections.

On 29 April 2005, Oettinger became Chairman of the CDU in Baden-Württemberg, eight days after succeeding Teufel as Minister President. In 2006 the CDU held onto their majority in the Baden-Württemberg State election; Oettinger was re-elected Minister President. Oettinger headed a coalition regional government comprising CDU and FDP members.

On 24 October 2009, Angela Merkel's new centre-right government chose Oettinger to be a Commissioner of the European Commission. He took office on 10 February 2010, the same day he stepped down as Minister President of Baden-Württemberg.

In a leaked diplomatic cable from the United States Embassy entitled "Lame Duck German Governor Kicked Upstairs as New Energy Commissioner in Brussels," U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Germany, Greg Delawie notes:

"Chancellor Angela Merkel nominated Baden-Wuerttemberg (BW) Minister President Guenther Oettinger as EU Energy Commissioner primarily to remove an unloved lame duck from an important CDU bastion".

Delawie's cable further states:

"Oettinger is noted for a lackluster public speaking-style, and some commentators have asserted that Merkel, who has often stood out at EU meetings, wanted to appoint a German Commissioner who would not outshine her!"

Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Energy, 2010-2014[edit]

In the Second Barroso Commission, Oettinger was allocated the Energy portfolio, which had just grown in importance after the Lisbon Treaty gave the EU complete authority in the area.[2]

At his confirmation hearing before the European Parliament in 2010, Oettinger pledged to enforce the principle of solidarity on energy policy as enshrined in the EU's Lisbon Treaty so that no member state could be left disadvantaged. He struck a chord with parliamentarians by basing his security of supply strategy equally on diversifying gas transportation routes from third countries and promoting indigenous renewable energy.[3] Asked about his stance on nuclear energy Oettinger said that although his country Germany sees nuclear as a bridging technology, he had no reservations against France's plans to build more nuclear capacity nor Austria's decision to abandon the technology altogether.[4]

The first phase of Oettinger’s term was dominated by the Nabucco pipeline debate, his many trips to Azerbaijan and the Caspian region as well as his negotiations with Russian energy company Gazprom. Oettinger lobbied both for the Nabucco pipeline and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, arguing they will be needed in the medium-term as routes to help secure European gas supply.[5] The second phase began with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 and the resulting energy transition in Germany.[6] Oettinger advised that there should be no new taxes on energy within the EU, and current taxes should not be raised, if prices are to be kept competitive with rivals fuelled by cheaper shale gas in the US.[7]

Throughout his time in office, Oettinger regularly made headlines for his comments on constituent EU member countries’ economic situations. In remarks published by German media in May 2013, he expressed doubts about France’s economic recovery and said “too many in Europe still believe that everything will be fine.” France, he said, “is completely unprepared to do what’s necessary,” while Italy, Bulgaria and Romania “are essentially ungovernable.”[8] Oettinger has also repeatedly been in conflict with the German government.[9] In an interview with Die Welt in 2014, he criticized the German Federal Government’s plan to allow longer-serving employees to retire at the age of 63 for the message this sent to cash-strapped peripheral eurozone states like Greece, Spain and Portugal.[10]

In mid-2014, Oettinger led high-level talks in order to facilitate a deal under which Ukraine would pay Russia $3.1 billion amid a dispute over unpaid Russian gas bills and Russia would deliver the gas Ukraine needs for the winter.[11]

Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, 2014-[edit]

Following the 2014 European elections, both coalition governing parties - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) backed Oettinger to remain as the German EU Commissioner in the incoming European Commission.[12] At first, Oettinger was widely considered to be a leading candidate to take the position of European Commissioner for Trade, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to consider the negotiations over the controversial TTIP to be one of the most important projects for growth in this legislative term.[13][14][15] Instead, Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the European Commission, nominated Oettinger as Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.[16]

Data protection

In a nod to European concerns over data protection, Oettinger has expressed his support to stiffer rules currently under consideration that would provide Europeans with a greater say over how their online data is used by the likes of Google, Facebook and other internet companies.[17] He also supports the liberal principle known as the “right to be forgotten”, in which people have the right to ask that links to information about themselves be removed from internet searches.[18]

Controversies[edit]

Eulogy controversy[edit]

On 11 April 2007, Oettinger gave a controversial eulogy on one of his predecessors as Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, Hans Filbinger, who was forced to resign in 1978 after allegations surfaced about his role as a navy lawyer and judge during the Second World War, and who died on 1 April at the age of 93.

In his speech at the memorial service at Freiburg, Oettinger described Filbinger as "not a National-Socialist" but as "an opponent of the Nazi régime", who "could flee the constraints of the régime as little as million others". Referring to Filbinger's role as a naval judge, Oettinger pointed out that no lives were taken by Filbinger's verdicts and that he did not wield the power and freedom suggested by his critics.[19] Oettinger was subsequently accused by politicians and the media of playing down the significance of the Nazi dictatorship. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted by publicly admonishing him, stating that she would have preferred for "the critical questions" not to be raised.[20] Oettinger was also criticized by opposition politicians and the Central Council of Jews in Germany; some critics even called for his dismissal.

Oettinger at first defended his speech, adding that he regretted any "misunderstanding" over his eulogy although he did not retract his comments about Filbinger's past.[21] Later however, on 16 April, he distanced himself from his comments.[22]

Flag Controversy[edit]

Oettinger suggested that heavily indebted countries should fly their flag at half-mast over EU buildings. As a result, several MEPs wrote a letter of protest to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, demanding his apology or resignation. Oettinger backed down, saying he did not support the idea of flying flags at half-mast.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Oettinger with Cai-Ullrich Fark Warthausen's former Mayor at a CDU rally in Biberach-Riss, September 2009

Oettinger married Inken Stange in 1994, by whom he has one son. On 9 December 2007, Oettinger and Inken announced that they were separated.[24] Three days later, Oettinger's wife was reported to have already been in a relationship for 9 months with Dr Otmar Westerfellhaus, Managing Director of the Porsche car-manufacturing subsidiary in Mannheim.[25]

Since separating from his wife, Oettinger's liaison with Friederike Beyer, a PR events organiser from Hamburg, who is 25 years his junior, has enjoyed wide coverage in the German press.[26]

Honours[edit]

References[edit]

Oettinger at Hannover Messe, 2013
  1. ^ "New commission set to take office", European Union, 9 February 2010
  2. ^ Oettinger defends European vision on energy EurActiv, January 15, 2010.
  3. ^ Oettinger defends European vision on energy EurActiv, January 15, 2010.
  4. ^ Oettinger defends European vision on energy EurActiv, January 15, 2010.
  5. ^ Michael Shields (July 5, 2013), EU's Oettinger says Nabucco route not dead -newspaper Reuters.
  6. ^ Dario Sarmadi (June 25, 2014), Germany's top EU official in Brussels wins backing for second term EurActiv.
  7. ^ Fiona Harvey (March 28, 2013), Oettinger calls for no new taxes as talks begin on 2030 climate targets EurActiv.
  8. ^ Andrew Higgins and James Kanter (May 29, 2013), E.U. States Win Leeway on Deficits New York Times.
  9. ^ Dario Sarmadi (June 25, 2014), Germany's top EU official in Brussels wins backing for second term EurActiv.
  10. ^ Alice Ross (April 21, 2014), Germany attacked over plan to cut retirement age Financial Times.
  11. ^ Anton Troianovski (September 27, 2014), Russia, Ukraine Close In on Deal to Resolve Gas Dispute Wall Street Journal.
  12. ^ Dario Sarmadi (June 25, 2014), Germany's top EU official in Brussels wins backing for second term EurActiv.
  13. ^ Jeevan Vasagar and Christian Oliver (August 4, 2014), Germany seeks to limit investor protection to save trade deal Financial Times.
  14. ^ Oettinger interested in Trade Commissioner post EurActiv, August 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Peter Spiegel, Alex Barker and Christian Oliver (September 2, 2014), European Commission top jobs: The runners and riders Financial Times.
  16. ^ James Kanter (September 10, 2014), Jean-Claude Juncker Names European Commissioners New York Times.
  17. ^ Mark Scott (September 29, 2014), Nominee for European Digital Job Explains Positions in Hearing New York Times.
  18. ^ Mark Scott (September 29, 2014), Nominee for European Digital Job Explains Positions in Hearing New York Times.
  19. ^ Full text of Oettinger's eulogy for Hans Filbinger (in German) (Microsoft Word document, 232 KB). Frankfurter Rundschau, 12 April 2007.
  20. ^ "Nach umstrittener Trauerrede zu Filbinger: Merkel rügt Oettinger." Tagesschau online, 13. April 2007.
  21. ^ "Eulogy for Former Nazi Prompts Criticism", The New York Times, 14 April 2007 [1]
  22. ^ "Oettingers Weltsicht" Süddeutsche Zeitung vom 17 April 2007
  23. ^ German EU boss backs down on flag at half mast bid Irish Independent, 2011-09-14.
  24. ^ Oettinger marriage fails after 13 years n-tv online, 9 December 2007 (German)
  25. ^ Inken Oettinger loves Porsche Manager Focus magazine, 12 December 2007 (German)
  26. ^ Lover's bliss – Oettinger with new partner Focus magazine, 14.11.2008 (German)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Erwin Teufel
Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg
2005–2010
Succeeded by
Stefan Mappus
Preceded by
Günter Verheugen
German European Commissioner
2010–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
Andris Piebalgs
European Commissioner for Energy
2010–2014
Succeeded by
Miguel Arias Cañete
as European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy
Succeeded by
Maroš Šefčovič
as European Commissioner for Energy Union
Preceded by
Neelie Kroes
as European Commissioner for Digital Agenda
European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society
2014–present
Incumbent