Earlier this week Germany’s appointment to the Commission, Gunther Oettinger, allocated the Digital Economy portfolio blotted his copybook by blaming the celebrity victims of a porn leak as stupid prior to his EP confirmation hearings, at which he also didn’t do too well. However, if second division, and appointed for domestic reasons, he isn’t the only one.
Oettinger was previously a Vice President in the Commission and held the energy portfolio. Prior to that he was the Prime Minister of Baden-Wurtemburg; he is a member of the Chrstian Democratic Union, and thus the EPP, the largest party in the EP and the same as Juncker.. His behaviour over the last month or so can be observed via two articles from the well informed Komopolito, from the first and contemporary post, we have the following quote,
I think that giving him the digital portfolio in the European Commission may have been Juncker’s biggest political mistake so far. It has only been a few months and he created all sorts of scandals – most of them a little bit under the radar of the media. However, he regularly oversteps his mandate, he does not seem to be independent from the position of the German government (Juncker has repeatedly called for a truly independent Commission!), he alienates the people that care about the development of a digital single market and his rhetoric has become insulting. His EP hearing was already a disaster, very vague and painful to watch.
Diginomia, also reviews Oettinger’s short term record in an article that criticises his knowledge over his portfolio. Their correspondent points out that Reding & Kroes’s portfolio has been broken up and that thankfully Oettinger has no responsibility for either privacy nor for the digital single market and we can see from the history of Britain’s Digital Economy Act that subject matter ignorance leads to bad laws. What remains of the digital affairs portfolio is copyright reform, and once more the auguries are not good. Germany’s copyright laws take the side of old media against the new, by for example creating a tax liability to be paid by search engines for news snippets. Outlaw reviews his likely agenda , that of copyright reform, and the influence of his German background. Germany’s politics, as is the case in the UK, is heavily influenced by the Murdoch business model, the reinforcing nexus of media ownership, politics, power and money albeit dominated by an alternative commercial player. In parts of Europe, it would seem that the interests of “old media” are powerfully championed, characterised as European content interests versus the primarily US owned new media companies, with citizen interests as collateral damage.
Kosmpolito talks of Oettinger’s original appointment in 2009, strongly suggesting that the decision was not based on a desire to maximise Germany’s intellectual leadership and moral authority in the Commission, but as I say this wouldn’t have been the first time a European government had taken such decisions. It would seem that he was a political liability, and kicked out of touch, a bit like his British Commission contemporary, Peter Mandleson.
Perhaps we should be grateful, that the biggest countries don’t send their 1st division to the Commission. It leaves room for growth in the European Parliament.