The Brief: Commission in credibility crisis over Oettinger and Barroso


The European Commission is facing a credibility crisis. If it is not addressed soon, it risks confirming the worst prejudices held about EU officialdom – that it is arrogant, elitist and out of touch.

Failure to sensibly engage with the fallout from Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s racist and homophobic remarks raises questions about how seriously the executive takes these issues.

Oettinger described visiting Chinese ministers as “slitty-eyed” in a shocking speech last week. He also mocked women and gay marriage, as The Brief reported on Friday.

Germany’s Commissioner used a newspaper interview to defend the remarks, claiming they were “sloppy”, rather than racist. Oettinger has since faced calls for his resignation in Brussels and Berlin.

At its midday press briefing, the Commission refused four times to apologise for the remarks.

Asked if there would be an investigation, the executive’s chief spokesman said, “There is no FBI at the European Commission.”

We have “nothing to add” to the interview, he told incredulous reporters.

That amounts to an effective endorsement of Oettinger’s “sloppy language” excuse.

The fact that Jean-Claude Juncker did not speak to Oettinger about the speech, or a second set of comments where he branded Wallonia “a micro-region ruled by communists”, also reflects badly on the Commission.

Astonishingly, Oettinger has been promoted to Budget Commissioner since his “slitty-eyed” speech.

If this isn’t put to bed, Oettinger will face tough questions from MEPs at his European Parliament hearing before he takes up his new job.

More importantly, people will think the Commission doesn’t take racism, sexism or homophobia seriously, despite its regular championing of “European values”.

To make matters worse, the Commission today published a report by its independent ethics committee. It exonerated former Commission President José Manuel Barroso for taking a lobbying job with investment bank Goldman Sachs.

It cannot afford to be guilty of a similar whitewash in Oettinger’s case.


MEPs are piling pressure on the Commission to extend the cooling off period to two years and toughen up rules to prevent officials from taking up cozy lobbying jobs. A majority of MEPs voted to cut around €500,000 from former Commissioners’ pensions.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov gets to name a new EU Commissioner and is eyeing the ecology or regional policy briefs. Borissov said Kristalina Georgieva, who will start a new job at the World Bank in January, already “fulfilled her role” as budget chief by securing an increase in EU funds for Bulgaria.

Walloon politicians said they were pressured and warned there would be “consequences” if they refused to sign CETA. Wallonia blocked the agreement for ten days. In the US, officials are doubtful the agreement on CETA will help move TTIP ahead.

Croatia is going to coach Bosnia on how to join the EU. Turkey won’t be joining anytime soon if they keep arresting journalists. Geert Wilders is on trial for inciting racial hatred in the Netherlands.

Today was the application deadline for candidates to be the next leader of UKIP. One has already dropped out of the running. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney will stay the course, despite criticism of his interventions during the referendum campaign.

Don’t have a costume for Halloween?  Simply borrow a suit, a pillow, a belt and a blonde wig. Tie the pillow to your stomach with the belt, put on the suit and the wig. Instant Donald Trump or Boris Johnson!


It is a public holiday in Brussels tomorrow and it is Green Week at the European Parliament, when MEPs go back to their constituencies. The Brief is taking a well-earned break, but will be back as usual on Wednesday.

This Brief was powered by Google. Brussels Mobile Innovation Day is all about the smartphone economy. Making devices and developing apps has created over 1.2 million jobs within the EU – learn more at our event on 14 November. Register here – on whatever smartphone you like!


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