Tuesday

23rd Jan 2018

China comments land EU's new budget commissioner in trouble

  • Oettinger: quotes taken out of context (Photo: European Commission)

Jean-Claude Juncker probably had wanted to celebrate his European Commission's two-year anniversary differently.

But days before his team marked two years in office, the commission is dealing with the aftermath of an important member leaving, her successor taped making offensive remarks, and Juncker himself lambasting Belgian internal politics for the trouble it caused with the signing of an EU-Canada trade deal.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The most serious of controversies is a tape that surfaced over the weekend featuring EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger, in charge of digital affairs, but soon to take over from his colleague, budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who is leaving at the end of the year.

Oettinger reportedly used a German term roughly equivalent to “slant eyes” when referring to members of a Chinese delegation visiting Brussels for the annual EU-China visit, in a speech in Hamburg last week.

He was filmed describing the delegation as: “Nine men, one party. No democracy. No quota for women – no women, consequently.”

Shoe polish

The remarks were apparently meant as a joke, because he left a pause for some in the crowd to laugh. Oettinger also joked about their hair - “combed from left to right with black shoe polish”.

He also quipped about German politics, calling Horst Seehofer a “populist light”. Seehofer, prime minister of Bavaria, is a member of the Christian Social Union, the centre-right Bavarian sister party of Oettinger's Christian Democratic Union.

Talking about the wrong priorities in German politics, Oettinger also said jokingly “perhaps an obligatory gay marriage” would be introduced.

'Sloppy' - but not sorry

In an interview with Die Welt, Oettinger did not apologise for any of the remarks.

He explained the use of the derogatory term for Chinese as “a somewhat sloppy statement, which was in no way meant disrespectfully towards China”.

Instead, Oettinger criticised the person who published the edited video online, saying the remarks were taken out of context. The commission itself has not yet published a transcript of the speech.

“Whoever made this tape, did not want to show a complete picture of me, but only to present parts without context. At the event I received a lot of positive feedback,” he said.

The Oettinger tape

However, his remarks have been criticised in Brussels.

The small Green group in the European Parliament said with such statements Oettinger “disqualifies” himself from being a commissioner.

“He cannot and should not represent the European Commission, especially in a sensitive area like the budget,” the left-wing group said.

Oettinger was due to visit Greece on Monday (31 October) but the visit appears to have been dropped from the official agenda.

Bulgarian departure

The gaffe comes at a particularly awkward moment, just days after Oettinger was announced on Friday to replace Georgieva in charge of the powerful budget post.

Georgieva's departure itself did not reflect fantastically on the commission, only two years into the job.

It came just weeks after the Bulgarian commissioner tried and failed to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations, but Georgieva told Bulgarian press that the two are not related.

“The fact that I am leaving the European Commission has nothing to do with my campaign for the post of secretary general of the UN,” she said.

“What the World Bank is offering me is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it is good not only for me but for Europe as well.”

Juncker rants on Belgium

The weekend of the Oettinger gaffe was also the weekend of a three-minute rant by Juncker against Belgian politics.

On Sunday (30 October), in the presence of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Juncker and EU Council president Donald Tusk gave a press conference about the conclusion of the EU-Canada trade deal Ceta.

A deadlock created by opposition from Belgian region Wallonia was solved last week, and the press event was about to end in a positive note.

“All is well that end's well,” said Tusk after a 21-minute press conference.

But then Juncker broke in, saying he wanted to add “some words to the Walloons”.

“The commission's interlocutor is not the Wallonian region, but the federal Belgian government,” said Juncker.

“Belgians should think pretty carefully about how it works in the context of international trade negotiations.”

Tusk had tried to stop Juncker, telling him to “calm down”, but Juncker quipped he was giving an “institutional lesson to the Belgians in the room”.

Focus

EU commissioners at odds over geo-blocking

EU digital commissioner Andrus Ansip and his fellow commissioner Gunther Oettinger are at odds with one another over the need to abolish the practice of restricting online content based on someone's location.

Oettinger apologises over China insults

The future commission vice-president admitted in a statement that his words "have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people".

MEPs to keep 28 UK seats after Brexit

The number of French MEPs will grow from 74 to 79, while Spanish MEPs will increase in number from 54 to 59. Other countries like Italy, the Netherlands, and Ireland will also get more MEPs.

MEPs may bar killer drones from EU research cash

EU defence fund is expected to hand out €500m to companies across the EU if they work together on 'defence products'. Under the current proposal, the development of weapons of mass destruction would not be excluded.

EIB 'more sensitive' to fraud after Dieselgate

The president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, said the bank had high standards - but did not explain why an anti-fraud report on a loan to Volkswagen was being kept secret.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap