Monday, 30 November 2009

Champagne corks popping in Rue Belliard

Commission President Barroso surprised many with his early announcement on Friday afternoon of the portfolios for the 13 new candidate Commissioners and the 13 current Commissioners who will continue in Barroso-2.

Barroso gave Günther Oettinger (German Chancellor Angela Merkel's appointee) the job as energy Commissioner. This news is likely to have resulted in champagne corks popping in the Rue Belliard, the ugly four-lane motorway full of lobbyists' offices that cuts through the Brussels EU quarter.

No.s 60-62 Rue Belliard are the lobby offices of German coal and nuclear energy giant EnBW, a company he knows well from his time as prime minister of Baden-Württemberg. EnBW's offices are inside Baden-Württemberg's official offices in the Brussels EU quarter. Oettinger's many past favours to EnBW include lobbying heavily on the company's behalf to keep its nuclear power plants open, at a time when the German government had committed to a nuclear phase-out.

On Rue Belliard 65, opposite EnBW's offices, are the lobby headquarters of FORATOM, the European alliance of nuclear energy producers. Andris Piebalgs, Oettinger's predecessor as Energy Commissioner, was very pro-nuclear, but with Oettinger in the seat, FORATOM is likely to have an even closer ally in the Commission's Berlaymont headquarters.

What did Barroso have in mind when appointing Oettinger? Nuclear energy remains hugely controversial among European citizens. Is there any real chance that Oettinger can defend the European public interest in a radical shift towards genuinely sustainable energy? The European Parliament's approval hearings are in the second week of January. To be continued...

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