Oettinger’s new digital job raises eyebrows in Berlin

Günther Oettinger. Lauchringen, 2009. [Bernd Glasstetter/Flickr]

In Germany, reactions across party lines reflected the surprise over Günther Oettinger’s appointment to the Digital Economy and Society portfolio in the new Juncker Commission. euractiv.de reports.

“It is encouraging to see digital issues taking a prominent position in the new Commission“, Pirate MEP Julia Reda said. “However, I cannot expect much from Oettinger. He hasn’t previously demonstrated any expertise in the area.”

Jan Philipp Albrecht, an experienced Green MEP and data protection expert, said he considered Oettinger’s “the biggest misappointment” in the Juncker cabinet.

“The former Energy Commissioner has neither experience in this area, nor does he have a clear agenda over how to tackle digital transformation. This a disappointment both for the economy and for consumers,” Albrecht said.

MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who hails from Germany’s liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), called the new Commission appointments “a resounding slap in the face” for the German government. 

Merkel was neither able to assert her opposition against Moscovici becoming Economic Affairs Commissioner, nor secure an influential Vice-President post for Oettinger, the liberal politician said.

Merkel and Oettinger take digital appointment in stride

But Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Oettinger’s appointment to the Digital Economy and Society post was positively received.

“In our view, [the choice] is very good,” Seibert said.

The portfolio will be a decisive one in the Juncker Commission and is also of key importance for the German government, Merkel’s spokesman remarked.

Oettinger himself, said he was “not happy but satisfied” in a statement shortly after the announcement on Wednesday (10 September). The former Energy Commissioner said he is “motivated and curious” about the new position.

We are in the “middle of a revolution – our daily lives, our industry, our infrastructure. The digital world is changing everything,” Oettinger explained.

A “tit-for-tat” response

Still, speculations were rife about the rationale behind Oettinger’s appointment to the digital portfolio.

Bernd Lucke, party leader of the right-wing Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)said Oettinger’s appointment was a “degradation“.

The choice is “likely a tit-for-tat response to Merkel after she did not hide her disdain of Juncker”, Lucke commented.

For once, the Green Party seemed to agree with Eurosceptics: “Juncker has not satisfied Mrs. Merkel’s wish to have Oettinger appointed to the Trade Commissioner post,” remarked Manuel Sarrazin, a Green party member in the Bundestag.

“The decision is a clear statement that Berlin cannot run things in Brussels,” Sarrazin said.

“Apparently Juncker does not want a marionette controlled by Merkel and the German lobby to be a leading figure in negotiations over the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),” the Green politician stated.

The Trade Commissioner’s office – and thereby the one responsible for TTIP – will be led by Cecilia Malmström.

“A good appointment,” Sarrazin said. “She is a strong personality, who will not allow others to meddle in her work. She has had to deal with strong lobby groups in the past.”

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