Oettinger under fire for failing to disclose side activities

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EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is under fire as public prosecutors in Stuttgart examine whether he lied in his declaration of interests about side activities. Oettinger is the only commissioner to have changed his declaration – and he has been forced to do so twice. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Charges were made against Oettinger by German management consultant Andreas Frank. According to stern.de, prosecutors are checking whether he lied in his affidavit, as that would constitute a criminal offence.

Each of the EU's 27 commissioners has to make a declaration of his or her external activities before taking office. Oettinger has made this declaration three times to date, yet the third attempt still contains gaps.

He should have mentioned his membership of the Board of Trustees of the Ludwigsburg Festival in his latest declaration on 10 June. He held this post during his time as minister president of the Baden-Württemberg region and failed to declare it even back then, going against regional constitutional law.

Oettinger's Brussels office reportedly explained that the commissioner ''had taken up the honorary post when he became minister president and had not thought it necessary to resign separately from the honorary post when he handed in his resignation from the office of minister president''.

A spokesperson for the European Commission denied a possible conflict of interest. Frank, however, sees this denial as precocious as the chair of the Ethics Commission is still on holiday and has been unable to investigate the affair thus far.

Frank told euractiv.de that there was no connection between membership of the Board of Trustees and the office of minister president, as Oettinger's successor to the office had not automatically become a member of the board. Moreover, Oettinger would still have had to declare it as one of the activities he has undertaken in the past ten years.

Further gaps in Oettinger's declarations were also underlined. He was reportedly elected a member of the Board of Trustees of a prestigious boarding school, which was made public after the information was published in the German press. When Frank suggested that the declaration was incomplete, Oettinger promised to correct it and add the honorary post on the school's board to his file.

There are further discrepancies: Oettinger wanted to end his membership of the board of the Forum for the Region of Stuttgart before taking office in José Manuel Barroso's second Commission. Nevertheless, he continued to list it as a current activity.

Following Frank's renewed complaint, Oettinger published the third version of his declaration the next day, omitting the membership of the board of the Forum. The Forum, however, continues to list Oettinger – not as a member of the board, but as a normal member. Executive Director Ralf Jochen Schmid explained this as a mistake on the register.

Additionally, Oettinger has omitted a further detail: he is a member of a group that supports the basketball team EnBW Ludwigsburg, which plays in the German federal league and is sponsored by energy company EnBW.

The energy commissioner said he sees no possible conflict of interest here. As he held no office of any kind with this membership, Oettinger explained, it did not fall under the 2004 code of conduct for EU commissioners and did not need to be declared.

Oettinger is the only EU commissioner to have changed his declaration so far. Public prosecutors are now verifying claims that he may have lied in his affidavit – the results of which are expected within two months.

Only a few weeks ago, Oettinger provoked criticism when he agreed with the Commission's proposal to discontinue subsidies for inefficient coal mines as from 2014, without actually attending the session in person.

According to government sources, Chancellor Angela Merkel is apparently angered by Oettinger's behaviour. In the face of criticism from Merkel and the German coal industry, Oettinger had referred to the Commission's proposal as a sign of goodwill and thus further aggravated the situation.

Günther Oettinger's appointment was met with great surprise in German political circles. German press reports speak of a "disgraced politician" who is set to be "dumped" in Brussels for being "a thorn" in the German chancellor's side.

When minister president of Baden-Württemberg, Oettinger was reportedly told off by Chancellor Angela Merkel for excusing the Nazi past of the previous minister president, Hans Filbinger (EURACTIV 26/10/09).

Nonetheless, during his audition in the European Parliament, the commissioner eased through the crossfire by presenting a European vision of energy policy and establishing green energy as a top priority.

Some MEPs, however, did cite a potential conflict of interest given the personal relationships Oettinger entertains with the chief executives of E.ON and RWE (EURACTIV 15/01/10).

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