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9th Dec 2023

Commission makes no judgement in China race row

  • "We have to listen to what Guenther Oettinger has to say," the commission's spokesman said. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission declined on Monday (31 October) to comment on declarations by commissioner Guether Oettinger that were considered as offensive to China and Wallonia.

The EU executive spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists that Oettinger gave "detailed information" about the incident in an interview to German daily Die Welt and that the institutions had "nothing to add".

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Oettinger, the German member of the commission, was filmed at a meeting with business people in Hamburg last week using a German equivalent of "slant eyes" to refer to Chinese people.

He also joked about members of a Chinese delegation in Brussels who had their hair "combed from left to right with black shoe polish”.

The commissioner told Die Welt that the video has been edited and his words taken out of context. He admitted “a somewhat sloppy statement" but said it was "in no way meant disrespectfully towards China”.

Schinas said he would "refrain from any characterisation or value judgement that one can make on the explanations" given by Oettinger.

"We have to listen to what Guenther Oettinger has to say," he said. 

He added that the commission's president, Jean-Claude Juncker, did not ask his commissioner for explanations because he was "100 percent busy with Ceta", the EU-Canada trade deal that was signed on Sunday.

He also said that no further question would be asked because "we don't have an FBI at the commission to investigate commissioners".

Oettinger was also reported as saying that Wallonia, the Belgian region that delayed the signing of the EU-Canada trade agreement, was “a micro-region run by communists that blocks all Europe”.

But that comment is not on the video and Schinas explained that there should be a distinction between what is really said and what is reportedly said.

"Wallonia is governed by its democratically elected leaders," he said when asked who were the communists mentioned by Oettinger. Wallonia minister-president Paul Magnette is a Social-Democrat.

He insisted that the commission had "the highest respect for all Europe's regions that are primordial for Europe's competitiveness and cohesion".

On Sunday, Juncker had himself taken a jab at Walloon leaders. He said "the commission's interlocutor is not the Walloon region, but the federal Belgian government", adding: “Belgians should think pretty carefully about how it works in the context of international trade negotiations.”

The controversy over Oettinger's remarks comes as he is about to be promoted vice-president of the commission, in charge of budget, to replace Kristalina Georgieva who is taking a job at the World Bank.

Oettinger was due to go to Greece on Monday, but the visit was cancelled, due to "unexpected commitments", Schinas said while refusing to say what kind of commitment.

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