12:46 Nov. 16, 2016
In early November Oettinger was involved in another scandal for making racist and homophobic comments
EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger used a private plane offered by a German businessman with strong Kremlin ties, raising questions whether he broke ethics rules, EUobserver reports.
He flew from Brussels to Budapest on 18 May, with Klaus Mangold, an honorary Russian consul in Germany, who advocates lifting EU sanctions on Russia.
News of his trip first emerged in June on the Hungarian website 444. It was confirmed in early November after a parliamentary question from Hungarian and German Green MEPs, Benedek Javor and Rebecca Harms, which they had filed in July.
In its response on Oettinger's plane trip, the commission said that "due to the lack of commercial flights to arrive in time for the meeting with prime minister [Viktor] Orban [of Hungary], the commissioner responsible for digital economy and society [Oettinger] joined Mr Mangold's private plane."
Javor, the Hungarian Green MEP, disputes that version of events, however.
He said that on the afternoon of 18 May, the time of Oettinger's travel, there was a choice of four commercial flights from Brussels to Budapest.
If it was a gift from Mangold, then it would have broken commission rules that forbid accepting gifts worth more than EUR 150.
If the commission did pay, the question still arises why Oettinger chose to fly on Mangold's plane instead of another private jet.
The commission signed a framework contract with airlines in April to provide private planes for commissioners when needed, but Oettinger plumped for Mangold instead of using any of the other available planes.
"If the commission did not pay, this could count as a gift, which means Oettinger broke the code of conduct for commissioners. If the commission did pay, the questions arises if this was the most effective way to spend European taxpayers' money," Javor told EUobserver.
In early November the same EU commissioner was forced to apologise for playing a central role in another scandal. Speaking at a dinner event in Hamburg, Oettinger was filmed saying to business people that Chinese were "slant eyes" and "comb their hair with shoe polish".
The Mangold controversy and Oettinger's racist gaffe come amid EU plans to upgrade his portfolio. He is set to become a commission vice-president in charge of the EU budget.