For those of you who haven't been following the story - a quick recap. Back in October Verheugen told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that there was a "permanent power struggle" going on between EU Commissioners and their top civil servants. He said that the civil servants had "too much power" and that he had "strongly criticised" some of them for thwarting his deregulation drive. He then upped the stakes further by telling the FT that this failure to deregulate is costing the EU economy €600 billion a year.
That weekend pictures of Verheugen and his chief of staff Petra Erler holding hands on a trip to Lithuania were published in the German press. The following week FT Deutschland reported that EU officials were openly calling for Verheugen to resign over his attack on Commission staff and his reported favouritism in recently promoting Erler - a relative Commission outsider.
Then just last Friday the whole thing got nastier. The Times reported that German weekly Focus was threatening to publish pictures of Verheugen wearing just a baseball cap - on a nudist beach with Erler. Even though the pictures haven't yet been published they have caused quite a stink in Germany where many are calling for Verheugen to resign. One MEP, Herbert Reul said, "It’s unacceptable that an EU Commissioner should be running around naked on a beach with a senior female colleague”.
The powers that be in both Berlin and Brussels have publicly given Verheugen their support -maintaining that this is a private matter. It is unlikely that either he or Erler will be forced out: Verheugen is too important a member of the Social Democrats to be touched while there is a weak governning coalition. Indeed, Erler used to employ a certain Angela Merkel as her spokeswoman when she was in the Eastern German government.
Even still suspicions remain that certain people in Brussels are intent on getting their revenge on Gunter. As the Irish Independent reports:
“Mr Verheugen’s difficulties were predicted last month by the Commission's former chief accountant, Marta Andreassen, who was sacked by then-Commissioner Neil Kinnock in 2004 for blowing the whistle on its financial incompetence... She claimed that Mr. Verheugen was being dragged through the mud because of his complaint that "too much is decided by [EU] civil servants on spending in a non-accountable way. Ms Andreassen says that she received internal emails which warned, "We have ways of breaking people like you."