European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stepped in over the weekend to quash the controversy surrounding homophobic comments by Germany’s Commissioner in Brussels and moves by former members of the executive who recently joined business lobby groups.
Jean-Claude Juncker offered an interview to the Belgian daily Le Soir on Saturday (5 November) in what appears to be an effort to extinguish the fire following comments Oettinger made in a dinner speech in Hamburg ten days ago.
The Commission President said he was “particularly shocked” by comments made by Germany’s Commissioner Günther Oettinger on homosexuals, the Chinese and the Walloons, saying he hoped they did not reflect his thinking.
Oettinger’s comments were widely criticised as “racist and homophobic”. Regarding homosexuals, he joked that in Germany, gay marriage would soon become compulsory.
On 3 November, he made a small apology, after Juncker is reported to have spoken to him.
Answering critics who said the European Commission had been slow to react, Juncker said he did not have time to take care of the Oettinger comment until 2 November. Retrospectively, he said he was particularly shocked regarding the statements on homosexuals.
“This doesn’t at all reflect my convictions. So I wanted to be sure that he and I share the same convictions. He told me he was personally in favour of homosexual marriage,” Juncker said.
Asked by journalist Jurek Kuczkiewicz if the statements by Oettinger truly reflected his thinking, as similar statements by US presidential candidate Donald Trump caused outrage, Juncker said:
“He told me he wanted to bring order in the German debate. He believes that Germany deals with real problems, but those are not the most important for the country. I wouldn’t have said what he said, because this gives the impression of not liking the Chinese, the homosexuals, the Walloon and others,” Juncker said.
“A Commissioner cannot speak like this. I told him to apologise to those who may feel targeted,” the Commission President added.
Juncker said he sincerely hoped that the statements by Oettinger did not reflect his thinking, adding that when Commissioners speak in public, they should restrict themselves to issues pertaining to their respective portfolios, and not engage in hazardous subjects. “I told him that,” he stressed.
‘Cooling off’ period to be extended
Asked about the affair concerning his predecessor José Manuel Barroso, who was cleared of a conflict of interest in accepting a position at Goldman Sachs, Juncker said he wanted the Code of Conduct of Commissioners to be changed.
In particular, he said he wanted the “cooling off” period to be extended to three years for the Commission President and two years for the other Commissioners, up from 18 months currently.
“If the College doesn’t accept this proposal, I will publicly state that I shall not accept a job in a bank or in a company during three years. Even if, by the way, I have no plan to do it even after this period,” Juncker said.