Günter Verheugen

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Günter Verheugen
Günter Verheugen 2013.jpg
European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry
In office
22 November 2004 – 9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Ján Figeľ
Olli Rehn (Enterprise and Information Society)
Succeeded by Antonio Tajani (Industry and Entrepreneurship)
European Commissioner for Enlargement
In office
13 September 1999 – 11 November 2004
Serving with Janez Potočnik
President Romano Prodi
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Olli Rehn
Personal details
Born (1944-04-28) 28 April 1944 (age 72)
Bad Kreuznach, Germany
Political party Social Democratic Party (1982–present)
Other political
Free Democratic Party (Before 1982)
Alma mater University of Cologne
University of Bonn

Günter Verheugen (born 28 April 1944) is a German politician who served as European Commissioner for Enlargement from 1999 to 2004 and then as European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry from 2004 to 2010. He was also one of five vice-presidents of the 27-member Barroso Commission (Barroso I). After his retirement he is now honorary Professor at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). Since 2015, has been leading the European integration work stream in the Agency for the Modernisation of Ukraine.

Early career[edit]

Born at Bad Kreuznach in Rhineland-Palatinate, Verheugen studied history, sociology and political science at the University of Cologne and at the University of Bonn. He was secretary general of the FDP (liberals) from 1978 to 1982. He left the FDP with many left-liberal party members in 1982, because the FDP left the government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In the same year he joined the SPD (social democrats).

In 1983 he became a member of the federal parliament. He was a member of the committee on foreign relations from 1983 to 1998. From 1994 to 1997 he was deputy chairman of the parliamentary group of the SPD. He served as minister of state in the department of foreign affairs from 1998 to 1999. In 1999 he left parliament and became EU commissioner for Enlargement of the European Union.

European Commission[edit]

Verheugen first served in the European Commission as European Commissioner for Enlargement in the Prodi Commission, presiding over the accession of ten new member states in 2004. He continued in the following Barroso Commission as Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, also being promoted to one of the five vice presidents.

On 5 November 2004, during a press conference, Verheugen mentioned that the future prime-minister of Romania would be Mircea Geoană (of the PSD) and that Romania would end negotiations with the EU with just four days before the Romanian legislative and presidential elections. Following this, Romanian journalists accused him of meddling in Romanian politics.[citation needed]

As a Commissioner, he had stated a desire to cut red tape, especially in order to make it more favourable to SMEs. He also highlights research and innovation as "twin keys to future competitiveness". He outlines his priorities as; better regulation, a modern industrial policy, SMEs and innovation. In order to promote competitiveness, he laid down three policies derived from the treaties; "Competitiveness and improvement of the business environment (Art. 157). Completing and managing the Internal Market for products (Art. 28 and 95) and Innovation and research framework programmes (Title XVIII)."[1]

The commissioner was heavily involved in work on the REACH directive and ensuring its compatibility with the Lisbon Strategy.[2] He sees a common patent in the Union implemented by 2012 which he sees as important as patent application for the 24 million SMEs in Europe are on average 11 times higher than in the United States.[3]

In response to the refusal of countries to sign the Kyoto protocol, such as the United States and Australia, Verheugen asked President Barroso to look into whether the EU could implement taxes on products imported from those countries not taking low-carbon policies on board (Border Tax Adjustments).[4]

Opinion on mandarins[edit]

In October 2006 he accused European Union officials of being impossible to control, stating inter alia the purported impossibility of firing Directors-General (the highest grade in the EU civil servants structure). However, Article 50 of the EU's Staff Regulations empowers the Commission to do precisely that. Former civil servant Derk Jan Eppink described Verheugen's position in the following terms:

Verheugen is worried about mandarins having too much power because he's really not in charge. If you've been in a job for eight years and you're still not in charge, you have a problem. Verheugen is a foreign policy man; he was one with the FDP (Germany's free-market liberals) and then the SPD (Social Democrats). That's his thing. In Brussels, he's weighed down in the details, he gets lost in legislation and he's not really interested in the Enterprise and Industry portfolio. That's why he was so enthusiastic about enlargement because that's foreign policy. But he's been weakened by the mandarins, and by complaining about the bureaucracy he has only made things worse. Employing his girlfriend as his head of cabinet didn't help. He has become ridiculous, but no one wants him to go. When you have a commissioner who is so undermined, you stand a good chance of overruling him and getting your way.[5]

The Marshall Plan for Ukraine[edit]

In 2015 he headed the European integration work stream in the Agency for the Modernization of Ukraine,[6] a non-governmental organization developing a comprehensive program of modernization of Ukraine and looking for investment resources for its implementation.[7] Mr.Verheugen leads the Agency’s sectoral division for the institutional reforms recommendations aimed at the integration of Ukraine into the EU and civil society building. Together with a team of professionals Gunter Verheugen is engaged in the program development for the Ukrainian economy, as well as evaluation of relevant amounts of funding.[8]


At around the same time, photographs appeared showing him holidaying with Petra Erler, the head of his private office.[9] A Commission spokesman backed him by saying "the private holidays of Vice President Verheugen in Lithuania this summer did not violate the rules applicable to members of the Commission". Despite this there was a minor political row over Erler's appointment with allegations of her being appointed due to their friendship. These allegations were later aggravated over photos of them together on holiday holding hands, and then on a naturist beach together in Lithuania.

Life after politics[edit]


On cutting EU bureaucracy[edit]

  • "Many people still have this concept of Europe that the more rules you produce the more Europe you have."
    (October 2006)
  • "The idea is that the role of the commission is to keep the machinery running and the machinery is producing laws. And that's exactly what I want to change."
    (October 2006)
  • "We must ask the question of whether so many decisions need to be taken in Brussels."[11]
    (June 2016)


Foreign honours[edit]


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Martin Bangemann
German European Commissioner
Served alongside: Michaele Schreyer
Succeeded by
Günther Oettinger
Preceded by
Monika Wulf-Mathies
New office European Commissioner for Enlargement
Served alongside: Janez Potočnik
Succeeded by
Olli Rehn
Preceded by
Ján Figeľ
Olli Rehn

as European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society
European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry
Succeeded by
Antonio Tajani
as European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship