Involuntary YouTube star Günther Oettinger | News | DW | 09.01.2017
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Involuntary YouTube star Günther Oettinger

More than anything, Günther Oettinger is known for sexist, racist remarks. He's also a senior EU politician, the newly appointed EU Commissioner for the Budget and Human Resources.

Few Christian Democratic (CDU) Party bigwigs can land a YouTube hit quite as squarely as EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

The politician's speech at a December 2009 Berlin conference hosted by New York's Columbia University was clicked several million times - four interminable minutes of soldiering on, unsuspecting of mispronunciations, in English. Spitting out the word "energy" turned out to be an almost insurmountable hurdle for the designated EU Energy Commissioner.

Ever since, he's been known even outside of Germany as "the man with the accent." The politician's efforts at mastering an English-language speech were, however, not his fist problematic verbal contribution, nor were they his last.

Reporters and party cronies like to describe many of his remarks as "genuine Oettinger."

Gaffes galore

Two years before the notorious Berlin speech, Oettinger, then state premier of Baden-Württemberg, was forced to take back a comment in a eulogy he held for Hans Filbinger - his predecessor and a military judge during the Third Reich, - whom Oettinger praised as an "opponent of the Nazi regime."

Just last year, the EU Commissioner raised hackles when he used the words "slit eyes" to describe Chinese people while addressing a business audience in Hamburg; even the Chinese government protested.

Other comments included warnings that Germany might introduce "mandatory gay marriage," and disparaging remarks about women.

Günther Oettinger (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger)

Several Euro MPs have threatened to block Oettinger's appointment

He only apologized after being prompted by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, declaring that he had merely "improvised" his speech.

Suitable for the new job?

Nominated for the budget portfolio, Oettinger is due on Monday to attend a compulsory confirmation hearing before the European Parliament. Once confirmed, the German politician also functions as deputy commission president.

But in an open letter to the European Parliament, 10 NGOs said the 63-year-old was not suitable for the new job due to "racist, sexist and homophobic remarks made in the past."

Another issue bound to be on the agenda at Monday's official quiz session is the commissioner's flight to Hungary in a Kremlin-linked lobbyist's plane, as well as numerous meetings with industrialists. "Clearly," the EU lawmakers said Oettinger had more meetings with business representatives than any other commissioner. By contrast, he met with NGOs in less than one out of 10 appointments.

In 2010, during his stint as EU Energy Commisioner, Oettinger faced accusations of being far too close to Germany's leading power companies. From the start, Greenpeace felt the adamant German advocate of nuclear energy was a poor choice for the job.

Günther Oettinger (picture-alliance/dpa/N. Försterling)

Günther Oettinger (right) opens a local festival in Baden-Württemberg

Attention to detail

All the same, Günther Oettinger has made his way in Brussels, notorious not just for gaffes but also for his attention to detail and diligence. The Greens Party praised Oettinger for his expertise and perseverance soon after taking office, and Spiegel news magazine remarked: "He has the job that suits him."

The fact that he was nominated deputy EU Commission president is proof that Oettinger has gained a firm foothold in Brussels. Jean-Claude Juncker emphasized Oettinger's "ample political experience" and "professionalism."

The fact that the latter hasn't trickled through to the public doesn't faze the German politician in the least. Criticized years ago for his participation as premier in boozy parties, he simply said the events took place "outside of his core working hours."

Despite his divisive record, Oettinger seems disinclined to hold his tongue. Recently, the top EU politician called Europe "unique," pointing out that less diverse continents have fewer problems. Only Australia can boast more cooperation, he said, "which isn't hard because you only need to mediate between the locals and their kangaroos."

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