• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Oettinger: From laughing stock to digital boss

AFP/DPA/The Local · 11 Sep 2014, 17:02

Published: 11 Sep 2014 17:02 GMT+02:00

Oettinger cut his teeth in European politics with the energy portfolio at the outgoing Commission, gaining a reputation as well-versed in his subject despite initial scepticism about his appointment.

The 60-year-old, who was appointed Digital Economy and Society Commissioner in European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker's new team on Wednesday, took his place at the table in Brussels four years ago.

He was nominated almost by chance out of tactical political reasons after fellow conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's two other favourites for the job turned it down.

At the time, the trained lawyer and economist was premier of the prosperous southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg and had just put in an unimpressive performance in the 2009 parliamentary election.

His reputation was under a cloud after he gave a speech praising former Baden-Württemberg premier Hans Filbinger, a military judge in the German navy during the Nazi period, as an opponent of Nazism.

All this plus his inexperience of European politics made the Brussels appointment a surprise to many. His language skills for working in his new international environment initially drew ridicule.

A faltering command of English delivered in a heavy Swabian regional accent led to one of his first speeches in English making a splash on YouTube with nearly 700,000 hits.

However, Oettinger quickly brushed up his English and lost no time in diving into his new job as Energy Commissioner, soon able to talk inexhaustibly about high-tension electricity lines and gas reserves.

The divorced father-of-one, who has been dating event manager Friederike Beyer since 2008, became a sought-after speaker and is credited with developing the portfolio from something of a sideshow to a central facet of European policy.

His most impressive achievements came in the final months of his mandate thanks to his determination in trying to mediate a resolution to a bitter gas supply dispute between Ukraine and Russia.

Although an accord remains elusive, the German has managed to bring the two sides repeatedly to the table for discussions amid fighting in the ex-Soviet satellite state that sparked the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

After Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, he introduced stress tests for European nuclear power stations, straying into territory normally strictly reserved for member states to oversee.

He has a track record for being able to take some distance from German domestic interests, observers say, in criticizing, for example, Germany's system of subsidies for renewable forms of energy.

But critics accuse him of having sided with the energy industry, while environmentalists say he often failed to follow up words with actions. Greens in the European Parliament call him an “anti-modernizer,” despite his background in a CDU-Greens coalition in his home state before working in Brussels.

His ability to shine in less prominent roles will serve him well in his new job, which has a smaller area of responsibility and will see him under the supervision of Estonian Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip.

Important areas of work will be breaking down national barriers, especially roaming costs for smartphone users, as well as modernizing European copyright law, simplifying the process of starting a company and improving the continent's online security.

Oettinger has said that he is “happy” and motivated” with his new post.

No digital native himself, Oettinger joked that his 16-year-old son “would become my honorary adviser, I expect,” when challenged on his knowledge of the new job. The new digital economy commissioner is an occasional Tweeter.

SEE ALSO: And the winner of the EU single market is...

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

AFP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
The Local List
The 10 worst German cities for students to find digs
Photo: DPA

It's the start of autumn, which means the start of the university year. But along with the excitement comes the stress of finding housing - and in some glamorous locations this can be a nightmare.

German broadcaster sues Turkey over confiscated video
Akif Cagatay Kilic. Photo: DPA

German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Monday it had filed a civil complaint after a Turkish minister's office confiscated a taped video interview with him.

Germany's 'James Bond' goes on trial over tax evasion
Werner Mauss. Photo: DPA.

Germany's former top spy, Werner Mauss, went on trial on Monday accused of hiding millions of euros from authorities.

Germany holds first national 'mermaiding' championship
Photo: DPA

Ariel would be proud.

Gallery
15 pics that prove Germany is totally enchanting in autumn
The Max-Eyth-See in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA.

As summer fades into a distant memory and you start to begrudge trading Birkenstocks for boots, these pictures may help change your perspective on the new chill in the air.

Left politician who smuggled refugee could lose immunity
Diether Dehm. Photo: DPA.

Die Linke (Left Party) politician Diether Dehm could lose his immunity as an elected official after he admitted to smuggling a refugee into Germany.

Merkel party leader admits sexism is a problem
Jenna Behrends complained that a member of CDU's Berlin government had called her a "big sweet mouse" in front of a large group. Photo: Sophia Kembowski/dpa

A leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party admitted Sunday that it has a problem with sexism in its ranks.

Ethiopia's Bekele nears record in Berlin marathon win
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,643
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd