EU commissioner apologizes for remarks on China, gays

Thu Nov 3, 2016 12:06pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany's European commissioner apologized for offending China, gay people and French-speaking Belgians on Thursday as the EU executive tried to end days of scandalized commentary that might have jeopardized trade.

Guenther Oettinger said in a statement released by the Commission that he now realized his remarks to a German business forum last week had "hurt" people. He had called Chinese people "slit-eyes", joked about "compulsory gay marriage" and railed at a Belgian region's efforts to block an EU-Canada trade deal.

A spokesman for the EU executive, which is trying to improve relations with Beijing despite disputes over trade policy and human rights, said Oettinger had released the apology after a call from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

His U-turn came a day after the Chinese foreign ministry condemned his remarks and said they reflected a "baffling sense of superiority" among Western politicians.

Oettinger, 63, had previously accepted only that his comments on Oct. 25 had been "somewhat sloppy". He retained the confidence of Chancellor Angela Merkel, a fellow conservative though not a close ally, who had nominated the former state premier to Berlin's seat on the Commission seven years ago.

But the widening outcry threatened not only to hurt EU-China relations but Juncker's management of his team. Last Friday, before his comments had been widely reported, Juncker announced Oettinger's promotion from digital affairs to vice president for the budget, succeeding his departing Bulgarian colleague.

"RESPECT FOR CHINA"   Continued...

Guenther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, delivers a speech at the world's biggest computer and software fair CeBit in Hanover, Germany, March 14, 2016.  REUTERS/Nigel Treblin