The nomination of Günther Oettinger
to the post of Energy Commissioner last October came as a big surprise to many in Brussels and Berlin because the former premier of the southern German länder
has no track record in European politics and little professional experience in the field.
Yet, at the end of his three-hour hearing last Thursday morning, MEP members of the Industry and Environment Committee
(ITRE) were all united in their applause and congratulations for the candidate's "clear and precise
" answers, "thorough knowledge
" of the subject and prospective outlook for the EU.
Indeed, throughout the whole hearing Mr Oettinger (above) sat calmly in the hotseat and remained composed, hardly consulting his meagre one-sheet of notes, able to respond directly to the answers posed to him, and all in keeping within his allotted time - something which cannot perhaps be said for the other Commissioner-designates that have already undergone their hearings...
As for his message to the Committee members: he was firm in stating that Europe needed to urgently curb its dependence on imports of oil and gas, help protect the climate and tighten the security of energy supplies.
"Fossil fuels are a characteristic of our energy world and with that goes dependency on imports
," he said. "We need a paradigm shift and our goal should be de-carbonisation
He declared the EU's pledge of 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020
pronounced in the run-up to December's Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen was "very ambitious and courageous, but important
" and said the EU must eventually look to go further.
He stressed the importance he attaches to reaching these targets by vowing to "push towards making them legally-binding if in two years not enough is achieved and we're in danger of missing the targets.
The German Commissioner-designate then expressed his support for new energy projects such as the Nabucco pipeline
(left), which when completed he said would reduce the EU's dependence on Russian supplies.
"We have to reduce our dependence on Russia without backing out of our strategic relation with Russia, which has characterised our last ten years and will characterise the next 10 years,
" he argued.
He also suggested that the EU should "speak with one voice
" on energy matters, underlining that it needs to "move forward from bilateral agreements to European agreements
" with third-party countries.Claude Turmes
(Greens, LU) then enquired about Mr Oettinger's alleged close links to the CEOs of dominant German energy companies E.ON and RWE and how he would remain independent company interests in favour of the EU's millions of consumers.
His response was to assure members "You can trust me to show objectivity and independence
," before later promising he would not toe Berlin's line when carrying out his new job. "I have no intention to be partial in favour of Germany,
" he said, who have a large vested interest in ensuring the success of the Nord Stream gas pipeline
that will eventually link Russian supplies to the European Union via the Baltic Sea.
There was one major issue left for Mr Oettinger to answer on, and that was nuclear energy which is controversial in some European countries while the main source of electrical supply in others. Rather diplomatically, the Commissioner-designate took a neutral line stressing that "on the basis of the current treaty it is up to national governments and parliaments to decide on that.
After the hearing, praise for Mr Oettinger's performance was widespread from MEPs. Alejo Vidal-Quatras
on behalf of the EPP group commented that he gave a "convincing performance. He's identified core challenges of EU energy policy. And he gave the answers too!"
Similarly, Hannes Swoboda
of the S&D Group said he "is for the highest standard concerning nuclear security and he is dedicated to realise the EU climate policy."