Wednesday

26th Sep 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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".

News in Brief

  1. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  2. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  3. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  4. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit
  5. UK to allow EU flights in no-deal Brexit
  6. Greek reporters arrested after story on 'mishandled' EU funds
  7. Austrian minister urges police to out foreign sex offenders
  8. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group

Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president

Europe must have a robust foreign policy and nurture high-tech industries, Slovak EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic has said in his bid to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as the next EU commission president.

'Every group split' ahead of EU copyright vote

Political groups in the European Parliament are split about how to vote for a directive that would reform the EU's copyright regime - amid warnings that freedom of expression and creators' rights are at risk.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  2. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  3. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  4. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  5. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  6. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  7. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  8. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us