Germany’s Commissioner Günther Oettinger today (3 November) finally apologised, a week after calling the Chinese “slitty eyes”, and mocking women and gay marriage, in a secretly-filmed after dinner speech.
Yesterday, EurActiv.com exclusively spoke to Digital Commissioner Oettinger, who said there was no need to apologise and denied that “Oettigate” was a scandal.
On Monday (31 October), the European Commission refused four times to apologise for his language, which was widely criticised as “racist and homophobic”.
24 hours after our story was published, Oettinger said, “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.”
But Oettinger failed to apologise for a separate speech, where he is reported to have disparagingly branded the Belgian French-speaking region of Wallonia as “a micro-region ruled by communists.”
“Let me add here that I regret that some of my remarks were misquoted regarding Wallonia which is not only historically an important European region, but actively contributes to the cultural and political diversity of Europe,” he said in a statement published by the European Commission.
Oettinger had previously defended his “slitty eyes” comments as sloppy but not racist. Yesterday, he said, “Everything has been said. There is nothing to apologise for.”
“There is no scandal. “It’s you [the press], it’s EurActiv that has made the scandal.”
The humiliating climbdown came after China’s foreign ministry yesterday said the remarks revealed “a baffling sense of superiority entrenched in some Western politicians”.
Oettinger, who has described the Chinese as “chiselers”, today said, “I have great respect for the dynamics of the Chinese economy – China is a partner and a tough competitor.
“Therefore we need a level playing field where Chinese companies can buy European ones and European companies can buy Chinese ones. It is important to have that access on both sides – and I see room for improvement here.”
In the speech, Oettinger described a recent visit to Brussels by Chinese ministers.
“Nine men, one party, no democracy. No female quota, and no women – which follows logically.”
Unlike Germany, China does not have quotas for women in top jobs. The remark was interpreted as meaning women needed quotas to be successful.
“All of them [the Chinese ministers] in suits, single-breasted dark blue jackets. All of them had their hair combed from left to right, with black shoe polish on their hair,” Oettinger said.
In the immediate fallout from the speech, which sparked calls for Oettinger’s head in Brussels and Berlin, the European Commission repeatedly batted away demands by reporters for an apology.
“We have nothing to add,” the executive’s chief spokesman told incredulous journalists in Brussels.
Asked if there would be an investigation into the remarks, he said, “We do not have an FBI at the Commission.”
The scandal broke as it emerged that Oettinger was in line for a promotion. Reports have suggested the job and pay-rise are now at risk.