Merkel eyes trade portfolio for Oettinger

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger will be assigned the trade portfolio in the new European Commission. [EC]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger will be assigned the trade portfolio in the new European Commission. [EC]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for Günther Oettinger to be assigned the trade portfolio in the new European Commission, fuelling optimism in Germany’s economic sector. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Merkel is working towards Günther Oettinger receiving the portfolio for trade”, the economic journal Wirtschaftswoche reported over the weekend, citing EU sources.

If Merkel’s hopes are realised, Oettinger would also become chief negotiator for the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Oettinger would be “very helpful” as Trade Commissioner, said the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), welcoming the prospect. Amid the Ukraine crisis and the Iraq conflict, TTIP and the transatlantic partnership are in need of a strong signal, the organisation explained.

“Trade is a key portfolio for us. We would welcome Mr. Oettinger as Trade Commissioner,” said Volker Treier, deputy managing director at the DIHK, in a statement for EURACTIV Germany. Oettinger has a strong affinity for industry, for a competitive economy and particularly for a social market economy, Treier said.

“Specifically, for an export-oriented economy like Germany, Oettinger is invaluable,” he added.

Treier said he would have a lot of confidence in Oettinger as Trade Commissioner. “It would be wrong to underestimate him, as he was at the beginning of his term with the energy portfolio,” he remarked.

Not everyone is pleased by the news. The German anti-globalization NGO Attac is “worried“ that with Oettinger, a corporate-friendly commissioner would get the trade portfolio.

“Around TTIP, there is a strong social conflict right now. As energy commissioner, Oettinger showed no concern for voices from civil society. To make him trade commissioner (would be) fatal,“ Attac’s Jutta Sundermann told EURACTIV Germany. Oettinger should expect “a lot of headwind“ from NGOs, Sundermann said. 

Compared to other countries who are also eyeing the trade portfolio, including Finland, Latvia, Slovakia and Spain, Germany’s chances may be slightly better. Merkel has not yet sent anyone into the running for the office of EU High Representative or the European Council Presidency. As a result, Oettinger could be closer to an influential Commission post.

Until recently, talk in Brussels over Oettinger had centered around whether or not he would remain Energy Commissioner. But sources speaking with indicated that no EU Commissioner has ever served two consecutive terms with the same portfolio.

“As a rule, the Commission takes great care to ensure a Commissioner does not become too powerful in a particular area,” said Götz Reichert from the Centre for European Policy (CEP).

This also has to do with the negative experiences made during the Santer Commission, Reichert pointed out. Near the end of the 1990s, the entire Commission was forced to withdraw due to allegations of corruption.

EU member states are expected to name their candidate for the Commission by the end of July. Up until now, more than half of the 28 have not made a selection.

>> See our infographic: Who’s who in the new European Commission?

At the upcoming EU Summit on 30 August, EU member states hope to agree on a personnel package and determine who will be assigned which portfolio.

Jean-Claude Juncker , the newly-elected Commission President, has expressed his intention to increase the number of women in the European Commission. Only one woman has been officially nominated up until now: the Czech Republic’s minister for regional development, Vera Jourova.

Following their appointment, individual Commissioners will take part in a hearing before the European Parliament in September.

President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz recently announced the Parliament will not approve a European Commission whose seats are overwhelmingly filled by men.

The President of the Commission is elected by the Parliament by a majority of its members, on a proposal of the European Council acting by qualified majority. The choice of the candidate for the Presidency of the Commission should take account of the results of the elections in the European Parliament.

In consultation with the President-elect, the Council then adopts the list of the other Members of the Commission. These people are chosen on the basis of suggestions made by the Governments. The Commission is subject, as a body, to a vote of approval of the European Parliament. The College of Commissioners is then formally appointed by the European Council acting by qualified majority.

>> Read our LinksDossier EU Top Jobs: Who is next? and topic page EU Top Jobs

  • Summer: National leaders designate their commissioners to Brussels. New president distributes portfolios within his team of 27 commissioners
  • 30 August: EU summit to decide on package of appointments at the European Commission and EU Council
  • September: Each commissioner is scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees
  • October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
  • November: End of mandate of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council
  • 1 November: Target date for new Commission to take office

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