Foreign affairs ministers of Italy, Bulgaria and Romania expressed outrage and requested explanations from Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who said at a public event this week that the three EU countries had become “essentially ungovernable”. The EURACTIV network reports.
In a coordinated action, the permanent representatives of the three countries asked Oettinger's office to provide an explanation of the comments attributed to the commissioner.
In a speech at the German-Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, delivered on 28 May, Oettinger said many EU members had ceased to function politically, saying that Italy, Bulgaria and Romania had become "essentially ungovernable."
In addition, Oettinger said that France had “zero preparedness” for its much-needed reform, and slammed British Prime Minister David Cameron for being hobbled with "an unspeakable back-bench, his English Tea Party."
Italian Minister of European Affairs Enzo Moavero on 29 May called Oettinger’s comments on Italy "superficial and isolated". Several Italian media organisations called for Oettinger's resignation.
In Romania, Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean said he was “deeply surprised” by the comments regarding his country, adding that he was awaiting explanations before commenting further.
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said: “I don’t know if we are ungovernable, as some say. I think we are governable and good hosts, since this year we have received all the presidents of international financial institutions: the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, EBRD, EIB."
Romanian MEP Corina Cretu (S&D) said she had asked Commission President José Manuel Barroso to “take distance” from his commissioner’s comment.
In Bulgaria, newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Kristian Vigenin said he expected Oettinger, whom he said he greatly respected, to clarify “this misunderstanding”.
Bulgarian MEP Ivailo Kalfin (S&D) filed a written question to the European Commission concerning the remark of the energy commissioner, asking if the EU executive saw it appropriate for its official representatives, “regardless of their capacity, to make such statements on countries which are full-fledged EU member states”.
In Germany, Oettinger's comments were slammed by the opposition Social Democrats, as well as from the Green party.
Asked by EURACTIV to react at a news briefing on 30 May, the Commission president said he does not make comments on comments and went on to congratulate the newly appointed Bulgarian government.
A loose cannon?
Oettinger is seen by many as a loose cannon in the EU Commission. However, his statements do reflect the difficulties the governments have had in forming governments.
Following elections held on 12 May, the only two Bulgarian parties willing to form a coalition won just 120 of the 240 parliamentary seats. A cabinet was formed only 16 days after the poll.
In Italy, the 24-25 February election was complicated by the emergence of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. None of the traditional parties was able to win a majority. A multiparty government was formed on 24 April, led by centre-left politician Enrico Letta.
In Romania, the centre-left coalition Social-Liberal Union won the December 2012 elections by a landslide, but the country’s governance was greatly complicated by the cohabitation with centre-right President Traian B?sescu, whose term expires in 2014. However, according to analysts, the relations between Ponta and B?sescu are normalising. Barroso played a role for toning down the antagonism between the two leaders.
What the Commissioner said
Oettinger's services issued a statement, putting in context what the Commissioner had said at the public event:
Accordingly, Oettinger "argued that the outcome of national elections have a significant influence on whether a government has the necessary political support to implement reforms or not".
“If there is no clear mandate by voters and no stable majority in the national parliament, it is more difficult for a government to address the deficit and debt issue and challenging to implement painful but necessary structural reforms,” the Commissioner's statement is explained.
"Talking about the EU as a whole, Commissioner Oettinger focused on the enormous challenges still lying ahead of the Union."
“Europe in a very difficult phase and the reform process is certainly not over yet, I expressed my personal concerns”, Oettinger is quoted as saying.
"On France, the Commissioner reiterated his call “to push the necessary reforms,” the statement ends.