(B2) You have an unmissable date with a fiancé, a dinner with former classmates, a business meeting and you have just missed your plane. So do not hesitate! Call Günther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for the Digital Society. He can find a solution for you...
A flight with a well-known businessman
The facts date from May 18. But the pot of roses only gained momentum recently, after our colleague EU Observe published an article. Information first published by the Hungarian site 444 but went unnoticed, except for a Hungarian Green MEP Benedek Jávor who had submitted a question to the Commission (1).
To reach Budapest, and a dinner with Viktor Orban before speaking (the next day) in a conference on the cars of the future, the German Commissioner in charge of the Digital Economy (and tipped to take the budget portfolio) threw himself headlong into Klaus Mangold's private jet.
A Cessna 560XL, according to our information – rented from DC Aviation (formerly Daimler Chrysler Aviation) – registered D-CQQQ.
The Commissioner was in a hurry and did not really check which plane was sending him the Hungarian government with whom he had an appointment. At least that's the official excuse blandly given by the European Commission. The businessman is however known for his good connections with the Kremlin: he has also been honorary consul of Russia since 2005 in Baden-Württemberg. A land precisely chaired from 2005 to 2010 by a certain Günther... Oettinger (the world is small!).
Official apology issued by the person concerned on twitter: “ I had meetings with three commissioners and other meetings until 18 p.m. ". And to add as a justification for not having played the transparency: " I do not need to make public all my appointments on my public agenda ».
No other way to reach Budapest. " The only way to honor the invitation was to take the plane sent by the Hungarian government justified the spokesperson. It's not my fault... says the superintendent. Hungary organized everything and invited me. She has " also paid the hotel He adds.
This kind of invitation is common, he explains. " Governments often provide transportation and accommodation for commissioners when they invite them for a meeting, conferences »
A breach of the independence of the commissioners
For the German commissioner, traveling at the expense of governments and private individuals is completely normal. The argument is rather clumsy. We are here, to a certain extent, in violation of the principle of independence, provided for by the Treaty. A principle which aims to guaranteeobjectivity with which European Commissioners must exercise their functions.
(Article 17 EU Treaty) The Commission exercises its responsibilities in complete independence. Without prejudice to Article 18(2), the members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, institution, body or agency. They refrain from any act incompatible with their functions or the execution of their tasks.
The Commission's line of defense: a tightrope
The Commission remains (for now) on one line: 'No problem'. She denies that there is a violation of the transparency code or any rule. The line of defense is that of total denial:
1° We only have a relationship with the government, and not with the owner of the plane, whom we do not know. " For the relationship between the Hungarian government and the owner of the aircraft, I invite you to see with Budapest stressed the Commission's chief spokesperson during the press briefing on Thursday.
2° It is therefore not a “gift” that should have been declared (any gift of more than 150 euros must be registered, or refused).
3 ° " It was not a planned meeting ". The commissioner therefore did not have to declare this meeting with Mangold, according to the rules of transparency, since there was no... meeting.
4° There is no conflict of interest. None of the topics that may have been discussed with the owner of the private jet (the Commission did not respond on the topics discussed) concerned the digital economy, the Commissioner's portfolio.
5° The question of the Paks II nuclear project was not addressed (2).
Comment: a confusion of interest and many questions
The German, former president of the Land of Baden-Würtenberg, is not on his first escapade. But this one might be too many. It is not a question here of a verbal skid, badly controlled and badly excused as when he had taxed Wallonia of small area directed by the communists or the Chinese of being too combed people. Even if no reprehensible fact is proven, there is at least some confusion of interest, all the more damaging as vagueness reigns.
Many questions remain in fact posed which have not really given a clear explanation from the commissioner or from the Commission: when was the decision taken to take this plane? Was the meeting so unexpected as that? What did Oettinger and Mangold discuss? Why was Oettinger's presence in Budapest in the evening so necessary? Why was the meeting with Orban so important? What topics were discussed? You can't believe it was just about preparing for the next day's conference or talking about the digital economy...
It is one thing to be the guest of a government, it is quite another, quite consciously, to agree to board a private flight to discuss with a businessman active in the European market. The absence of any sense of moral reality of Günther Oettinger, betrayed in his tweets, is patent. It is hard to see how such a commissioner can take charge of the budget portfolio, or even remain a commissioner. A simple word of apology will not suffice this time. The only way out today is to be completely transparent about what really happened and why. Failing this, the Commission runs the risk of having to suffer a new storm for a "pecadille", and to see its image further diminished. Let's hope that, this time, President Juncker will not procrastinate for several days before deciding.
(1) download the written question and answer of the Commission of 3 November 2016
(2) Project to build two additional reactors, with a loan of 10 billion from Russia. The additional intervention (20%) of the Hungarian government was not judged as state aid by the Commission, as specified by a communicated of November 23 2015
(Updated) 18.11 with aircraft registration - 20.11 clarification on Commission line of defence, rewording of comment, posting of documents (written question)