EU official sorry for offending China, gays and Belgians

Mr Oettinger had called Chinese people "slit-eyes" and "sly dogs", joked about "compulsory gay marriage" and railed against a Belgian region's efforts to block an EU-Canada trade deal.
Mr Oettinger had called Chinese people "slit-eyes" and "sly dogs", joked about "compulsory gay marriage" and railed against a Belgian region's efforts to block an EU-Canada trade deal.

German commissioner issues apology after outcry over remarks that put trade and his promotion in jeopardy

BRUSSELS • Germany's European commissioner apologised for offending China, gay people and French-speaking Belgians as the EU executive tried to end days of scandalised commentary that might have jeopardised trade.

Mr Guenther Oettinger said in a statement released by the European Commission (EC) that he has now realised that his remarks to a German business forum in Hamburg last week had "hurt" people.

He had called Chinese people "slit-eyes" and "sly dogs", joked about "compulsory gay marriage" and railed at a Belgian region's efforts to block a European Union- Canada trade deal.

He had tried - and largely failed - to put the matter to rest by telling German newspaper Die Welt, in an interview published on Sunday, that his goal had been to highlight the intensely competitive trading environment Germany faces.

The EC, the executive arm of the European Union, issued a statement by Mr Oettinger on Thursday seeking to resolve the matter and expressing remorse.

NO DISRESPECT INTENDED

I had time to reflect on my speech and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people. This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been.

MR GUENTHER OETTINGER, referring to the remarks he made at a German business forum in Hamburg last week.

"I had time to reflect on my speech and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people," said the 300-word statement.

"This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been."

Outrage intensified over the week, but supporters of Mr Oettinger - the digital economy commissioner, who is in line for the more powerful job of vice-president of the EC - said he had intended no offence and that his remarks merely reflected the colourful language typical of his home state, Baden-Wuerttemberg.

A spokesman for the EU executive, which is trying to improve relations with Beijing despite disputes over trade policy and human rights, said Mr Oettinger had released the apology after a call from EC president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

His U-turn came a day after the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned his remarks and said they reflected a "baffling sense of superiority" among Western politicians.

Mr Oettinger, 63, retained the confidence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a fellow conservative though not a close ally, who had nominated the former state premier to Berlin's seat on the EC seven years ago. But the widening outcry threatened to hurt not only EU-China relations but also Mr Juncker's management of his team.

Last week, before Mr Oettinger's comments had been widely reported, Mr Juncker announced Mr Oettinger's promotion to vice-president for the budget, succeeding his departing Bulgarian colleague.

Amid calls for Mr Oettinger's resignation, some members of the European Parliament have warned that they could try to block the German during confirmation hearings for his new role.

The commission's chief spokesman said Mr Juncker would speak again with Mr Oettinger yesterday.

In his apology, Mr Oettinger described his comments using the German phrase "frei von der Leber" - "free from the liver", or very blunt.

He said he wanted to give a wake- up call to his German audience and to Europeans. "I have great respect for the dynamics of the Chinese economy - China is a partner and a tough competitor," he added.

Separately, in remarks to reporters on a visit to Bucharest, he said he supported gay rights - he had joked that Germany was prioritising social policy over improving competitiveness and that future proposals might include "compulsory gay marriage".

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'EU official sorry for offending China, gays and Belgians'. Print Edition | Subscribe