Half-mast flag idea for debt draws ire


IRISH MEPs yesterday rounded on the EU’s energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger from Germany, for reportedly suggesting that the flags of countries with excessive deficits should fly at half-mast in front of EU buildings.

Mr Oettinger made his suggestion in an interview with Bild, the mass market German tabloid newspaper.

MEP Mairead McGuinness said the notion was “daft”.

“Were such a daft suggestion to be taken on board, it would indicate that the EU had lost all sight of its principles, ideals and goals. It would be divisive and totally inappropriate, going against everything the EU was set up to achieve.”

Her MEP colleague, Phil Prendergast, described the suggestion as “a humiliation”. “The so-called deterrent in his eyes is humiliation. This is totally at odds with EU values, and unhelpful at a time when states most affected by the financial crisis struggle to get public acceptance for efforts to bring their debt under control.

“Shaming EU countries with excessive public deficits – caused primarily by the financial crisis – is unworthy of a member of the European Commission, the institution which stands for the collective interests of the European Union.”

In his comments, Mr Oettinger referred to “deficit sinners” who needed “unconventional” treatment to help them mend their ways – possibly through officials appointed by Brussels and imposed in recalcitrant capitals.

“There has been the suggestion too of flying the flags of deficit sinners at half-mast in front of EU buildings. It would just be a symbol, but would still be a big deterrent.”

Another tactic for pulling the debt-stricken country out of crisis could be replacing “the obviously ineffective administrators” there, he added. Because Greek officials have failed at collecting outstanding taxes and selling state-owned assets as planned, Mr Oettinger alleged, experts from other EU nations should be sent in to do their jobs instead.

“They could operate without concern for resistance and end the inefficiency,” he told Bild.

After all, he added: “Those who demand solidarity from the other countries must also be prepared to give up partial responsibility for a certain time.” – (Reuters/Spiegel online)