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Monday, December 11, 2006

Get Gunter

This story literally gets more extraordinary by the day. As Dan Hannan wrote a couple of months ago, "It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the two events are linked. One day, Günter Verheugen, the Commission Vice-President, attacks the cost of Euro-bureaucracy. The next, photographs appear of the Commissioner strolling hand in hand with a female aide while on a visit to Lithuania."

For those of you who haven't been following the story - a quick recap. Back in October Verheugen told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that there was a "permanent power struggle" going on between EU Commissioners and their top civil servants. He said that the civil servants had "too much power" and that he had "strongly criticised" some of them for thwarting his deregulation drive. He then upped the stakes further by telling the FT that this failure to deregulate is costing the EU economy €600 billion a year.

That weekend pictures of Verheugen and his chief of staff Petra Erler holding hands on a trip to Lithuania were published in the German press. The following week FT Deutschland reported that EU officials were openly calling for Verheugen to resign over his attack on Commission staff and his reported favouritism in recently promoting Erler - a relative Commission outsider.

Then just last Friday the whole thing got nastier. The Times reported that German weekly Focus was threatening to publish pictures of Verheugen wearing just a baseball cap - on a nudist beach with Erler. Even though the pictures haven't yet been published they have caused quite a stink in Germany where many are calling for Verheugen to resign. One MEP, Herbert Reul said, "It’s unacceptable that an EU Commissioner should be running around naked on a beach with a senior female colleague”.

The powers that be in both Berlin and Brussels have publicly given Verheugen their support -maintaining that this is a private matter. It is unlikely that either he or Erler will be forced out: Verheugen is too important a member of the Social Democrats to be touched while there is a weak governning coalition. Indeed, Erler used to employ a certain Angela Merkel as her spokeswoman when she was in the Eastern German government.

Even still suspicions remain that certain people in Brussels are intent on getting their revenge on Gunter. As the Irish Independent reports:

“Mr Verheugen’s difficulties were predicted last month by the Commission's former chief accountant, Marta Andreassen, who was sacked by then-Commissioner Neil Kinnock in 2004 for blowing the whistle on its financial incompetence... She claimed that Mr. Verheugen was being dragged through the mud because of his complaint that "too much is decided by [EU] civil servants on spending in a non-accountable way. Ms Andreassen says that she received internal emails which warned, "We have ways of breaking people like you."


Anonymous said...

He seems to have pulled above his weight there

Anonymous said...

Have a crack at that: His aide Ms Petra Erler is a former East German communist apparatchik. She studied marxist-leninist economics in East Berlin and at the Academy for State and Law in Potsdam. The "Akademie für Staat und Recht" was an institute designed to educate the top civil servants, diplomats and secret police agents of the DDR (or GDR).

Maybe Petra was trained as a "Juliet agent" by the Stasi. If that is correct she seems to be quite capable...

At least we now face the situation that the better regulation initiative of the EU Commission is steered by a former graduate of the communist East Germany's top administrative university. I would call that funny if it was not so scary.

Anonymous said...

Imagine for a moment that you are the head of a supranational government and that one of your ministers had been photographed naked on holiday.

Bearing in mind that Mr Verheugen wears only a baseball cap in these photos, which phrase might you have avoided in the following paragraph?

(The Times, 8 December): José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, rushed to the aid of his German Vice-President yesterday, saying that he expected “people’s private spheres” to be respected.

Anonymous said...

Private life of Verheugen not like Wolfowitz case: EU commission

Brussels - The European Commission on Thursday said that the private life of Germany's embattled Commission Vice-President Guenter Verheugen was not comparable with the scandal over former World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz.

German magazine Bunte Thursday published pictures of Verheugen and his female chief-of-staff that it said were taken last month.

Bunte said the pictures show Verheugen entering his chief aide's apartment in the evening and leaving it together with her on the way to work the next morning.

Asked by a reporter if the commission was still backing Verheugen in light of the recent Wolfowitz affair, a spokeswoman for the EU executive arm said that "the similarities that you are drawing are your responsibility and your responsibility alone, and I can only caution everybody to make this sort of amalgams."