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German commissioner insists he doesn’t support ‘half-mast’ idea

Gunther Oettinger says lowering the flags of “default sinners” is an idea already out there – and that he didn’t say he supports it.

Gunther Oettinger: not a fan of the green jersey, apparently.
Gunther Oettinger: not a fan of the green jersey, apparently.
Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

Updated, 12.31

GERMANY’S EU COMMISSIONER has insisted he does not support the idea of having the Irish flag, or that of other bailed-out countries, lowered to half-mast across the European Union.

Gunther Oettinger discussed the idea with Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, saying the idea that “default sinners” having their flags lowered would be a significant act of symbolism.

Irish politicians have lined up to criticise Oettinger’s remarks, but this morning the German – who is in charge of implementing EU energy policy – said he did not back the idea, but instead merely mentioned that the idea had been raised.

“In a recent interview, I referred to several ideas that are circulating these days in order to help address the problems,” the commissioner said, in comments relayed by the European Commission’s Irish offices.

“However, in the interview I did not propose this idea, nor did I support it. Moreover, I did not refer to any particular country.”

Nonetheless, Irish political figures have been lining up to attack Oettinger’s reported comments.

This morning Labour’s Joe Costello insisted the remarks were “those of a myopic bully”, saying they were “insulting and display a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of the economic realities of the present financial EU crisis.”

“The French and German banking systems broke all the lending rules in their pursuit of profit and now are determined to get their full pound of flesh from the countries into which they poured their surplus cash,” he said.

Costello promised to raise the comments in the Dáil during its discussion on ‘topical issues’ later this afternoon.

‘He who is without sin’

This morning MEP Mairéad McGuinness told Radio 1′s Morning Ireland that the reported remarks were “extremely unhelpful” and an “unfortunate distraction”.

“I’m inclined to the Biblical phrase, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’,” McGuinness said, calling on Oettinger to retract his comments.

“This morning [at the European Parliament in Strasbourg] we have spoken about the unfortunate  rise in inter-governmentalism, where member states deal with each other instead of through the community method,” the Louth-based MEP said.

In that context, the commissioner’s remarks were “beyond unhelpful”.

Earlier on Morning Ireland, government chief whip Paul Kehoe had also spoken out against the remarks – while Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams also described them as typifying of a European attitude.

Fine Gael TD Joe O’Reilly has also criticised the suggestion, saying the flag itself was a symbol of freedom and national pride, which flies beside those of other countries “as a symbol of co-operation and mutual respect”.

“It bears remembering that we have taken all the steps asked of us, and have received praise for the courage with which we have undertaken the tough and unpalatable steps necessary to lay the foundation for national recovery,” he said.

“It would be helpful if the Commissioner recognised the harmful nature of his comments, and withdrew them.”

Yesterday Labour MEP Phil Prendergast had kicked off complaints about the proposal, saying the idea was “totally at odds with EU values, and unhelpful at a time when States most affected by the financial crisis struggle to get public acceptance”.

The Irish Daily Star, in a front-page story, described the comments as “insanely insulting” – and in an editorial, advised Germany to hang its own flag at half-mast “for the next couple of hundred years”.

Germany’s EU commissioner wants Irish flag flown at half-mast >

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Gavan Reilly

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