Gunther Oettinger

Europe’s track record of getting its member states to abide by common debt rules is clearly a mixed bag. Perhaps not for long, if Günther Oettinger, the German energy commissioner has his way.

In an interview with Bild, the mass-circulation daily, Oettinger floats a new debt-busting plan which he hopes might succeed where past treaties have failed: countries with excessive debt should have to live with the mortification of having their national flags flown at half mast outside official European Union buildings.

The unconventional idea – acknowledged as such by the commissioner – “would only be a symbol, but it would be a powerful deterrent,” he said. 

Who is having a good crisis over at the European commission’s Belaymont headquarters?

Probably not Gunther “Apocalypse” Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose dire remarks about the Japanese nuclear situation were an embarrassing example of publicly pouring fuel on an unstable reactor. Not Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, whose aide told reporters that a no-fly zone over Libya was both impractical and unwise – only to be overruled a short time later by Britain and France.

While it is still early days, the buzz among eurocrats is that one commissioner who has proved effective in these troubled times is Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva

Beleaguered Japanese officials are already grappling with a humanitarian crisis wrought by a biblical earthquake and tsunami, and the prospect of apocalyptic meltdowns at a pair of stricken nuclear reactors. Add to their list of woes one European commissioner.

That would be Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose ill-judged remarks about the crisis on Wednesday have helped to make a bad situation worse.