EU’s Oettinger Apologizes for Speech That May Have ‘Hurt People’

  • Merkel ally in European Commission seeks to stem fallout
  • Conciliatory step follows controversial comments about Chinese

European Union Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger apologized for making comments about Chinese and other people that he said created “bad feelings.”

The conciliatory step by Oettinger, who is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s appointee to the European Commission, aims to stem political fallout from a speech last week in Hamburg in which he reportedly referred to Chinese people as “slit eyes.” He also reportedly described Belgium’s French-speaking south as a “micro region run by communists,” signaled women couldn’t succeed professionally without quotas and questioned the merits of gay marriage.

Guenther Oettinger

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“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,” Oettinger said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday in Brussels. “This was not my intention and I would like to apologize for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been.”

The Hamburg speech, some of which was caught on video, preceded an Oct. 28 announcement by commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that Oettinger will succeed Kristalina Georgieva as the EU’s budget chief after she resigns by the end of the year to join the World Bank. The move could mark a promotion for Oettinger because Georgieva, who is Bulgarian, is one of seven commission vice presidents.

Professionalism, Expertise

On Oct. 31, Merkel’s spokesman said the German government had “full confidence” in Oettinger, who is a former leader of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. That signaled she doesn’t plan to seek to replace Oettinger with another German appointee to the commission, which has one commissioner from each of the EU’s 28 member countries.

Oettinger’s planned job change at the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, will be scrutinized by the European Parliament, where some members lashed out at him last week for his comments in Hamburg. In his statement on Thursday, Oettinger said some of his remarks regarding Belgium’s French-speaking south were misquoted.

Juncker on Oct. 28 cited Oettinger’s “professionalism, capacity and expertise to assume this new responsibility” and said he was ready “to discuss swiftly” with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov potential candidates for EU commissioner from Bulgaria. Juncker left open the question of whether the new appointee from Bulgaria would take over the digital-economy portfolio that Oettinger has held.

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