EXCLUSIVE/ Under-fire Commissioner Günther Oettinger this morning (2 November) refused to apologise for describing the Chinese as “slitty eyes” and mocking women and gay marriage.
EurActiv.com asked Oettinger if he would say sorry for the comments he made in a secretly filmed speech in Hamburg last week. He has faced calls for his resignation in Brussels and Berlin, after the scandal over his “racist and homophobic” statements broke.
Oettinger, 63 said, “Everything has been said. There is nothing to apologise for.”
Germany’s Commissioner, in line for promotion to Commission Vice-President, had defended the comments as “sloppy” but not racist in a German newspaper interview.
Since then, the European Commission has refused to apologise or investigate the incident.
Oettinger: everything has been said. There is nothing to apologise for.
Me: but there is a big scandal.
O: there is no scandal.
— James Crisp (@JamesCrisp6) November 2, 2016
Despite the gaffe-making headlines across Europe, Oettinger told EurActiv, “There is no scandal.
“It’s you [the press], it’s EurActiv that has made the scandal,” he said near the Commission’s Berlaymont building at about 10:15AM.
Oettinger, who held the energy portfolio in the Barroso Commission, then got in his car and drove himself to the airport.
The doubling-down on the refusal to acknowledge the issue, in his first press comments since the Die Welt interview, will heap fresh pressure on the European Commission to take some action against the gaffe-prone German.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promoted Oettinger to be in charge of the EU budget on Friday (28 October), after the shocking speech leaked online. Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva is resigning to take a job at the World Bank.
It was reported Monday (31 October) that Oettinger’s speech, in which he sarcastically said that gay marriage could be made compulsory by German lawmakers, could cost him the promotion and a pay rise of more than €2,000 a month.
If he is promoted, Oettinger will face scrutiny from MEPs in the Budget Committee. They are likely to grill him over his comments, but will not get the chance to quiz him before early next year.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) November 1, 2016
Describing a recent visit to Brussels by Chinese ministers in the speech, Oettinger said, “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.
“The relevant remarks reveal a baffling sense of superiority entrenched in some Western politicians,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press conference.
“We hope that they can learn how to view themselves and others objectively and respect and treat others as equals.”
Despite furious calls for his head in the Bundestag, and anger in Brussels, the Commission Monday refused four times to apologise for Oettinger’s language.
Commission Chief Spokesman Margaritis Schinas repeatedly batted away demands by reporters for an apology.
“We have nothing to add,” he 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 same day, Oettinger retweeted a German news story about the scandal headlined, “Accusations of racism? That’s our Oetti.”
Oettinger also caused fresh controversy and anger when he said that the Belgian French-speaking region of Wallonia was “a micro-region ruled by communists” in a separate speech.
Wallonia had blocked the signing of the EU-Canada trade deal, which was finally completed on Sunday (30 October).
Paul Magnette, the minister-president of Wallonia, said, “Will the European Commission be as tough against racist homophobes like Oettinger as they were against those who defended transparency and democracy?”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has given Oettinger a vote of confidence after the weekend of bad publicity.
“Racist and homophobic; Oettinger in mega-political s**tstorm,” was the Hamburger Morgenpost‘s headline.
The head of Germany’s Die Linke (Left) party, Dietmar Bartsch, called on Angela Merkel to “withdraw this man from Brussels”.