Günther Oettinger was the wrong commissioner on the wrong plane belonging to a lobbyist alleged to Kremlin ties if he wanted to influence the European Commission’s decision on the Paks II nuclear plant case, Margrethe Vestager said.
“If it ever was to work, it was the wrong Commissioner in that private plane,” Vestager told EURACTIV.com.
Oettinger came under fire for taking a flight to Budapest on the lobbyist’s private plane in May, while the Commission was investigating Hungary’s decision to contract Russian nuclear energy operator Rosatom at its Paks II plant. Oettinger has denied any wrongdoing.
The timing put the Commission in an awkward spot. The executive closed an infringement case over Paks II days after news broke about Oettinger’s flight with Mangold, clearing the way for the multi-billion euro deal.
Vestager said she had no concerns about closing the case amid the controversy.
“This is not Oettinger’s portfolio. This is with Elzbieta Bienkowska and myself,” she said.
Bienkowska, the European Commission’s internal market chief, oversaw the infringement case against Hungary for smudging EU public procurement rules when it awarded Rosatom the contract at Paks II. Vestager’s office is still investigating whether Hungary’s investment in the plant broke state aid rules.
Oettinger will leave his job as the EU technology policy chief at the end of the year and will be promoted to a vice president position in charge of Europe’s budget. He’ll be questioned in three European Parliament committees before taking on the new role, but his promotion won’t be subject to a binding approval by vote in a plenary session of the entire Parliament.
The German commissioner has been dogged by scandals in recent months. In October, he was caught on camera at a Hamburg event mocking Chinese people and gay marriage. Oettinger apologised one week later.