apologizes for remarks on China
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[November 03, 2016]
By Alastair Macdonald
(Reuters) - European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger issued a formal
apology on Thursday for remarks that China took offence to but which the
German conservative politician had declined to withdraw for several
In a statement issued by the EU executive on his behalf, the digital
affairs commissioner who had referred to Chinese people as "slit eyes"
during a speech last week to German business people also apologized to
others who may have been "hurt".
He named the Belgian region of Wallonia but made no direct reference to
those who also accused him of homophobia in comments which Oettinger
said he had made off the cuff in order to shake Germans out of
complacency toward Chinese competition.
"I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may
even have hurt people," said Oettinger, 63, who is set to take over the
EU budget affairs portfolio soon. "This was not my intention and I would
like to apologize for any remark that was not as respectful as it should
"I have great respect for the dynamics of the Chinese economy – China is
a partner and a tough competitor," he added.
The 300-word apology by the former premier of the rich manufacturing
state of Baden-Wuerttemberg came a day after the Chinese Foreign
Ministry criticized him.
The EU and China have a fraught relationship. Brussels accuses Beijing
of "dumping" cheap products that harm European industry and of abusing
human rights. But it also wants access to the rapidly growing Chinese
market and having senior figures causing needless offence has clearly
not helped that goal.
Oettinger, a commissioner for nearly seven years, has long had a
reputation for plain speaking -- he told a public forum in September
that Britain had voted to leave the EU because then prime minister David
Cameron ran a "shit campaign" to remain.
But his remarks in his native tongue to a forum in Hamburg have put him
under unprecedented pressure, with some members of the European
Parliament suggesting they might try to block his coming promotion to
vice president in charge of the EU budget following the departure of his
[to top of second column]
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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stood by her party ally.
Oettinger had criticized Germany's political priorities -- citing
maternity leave and childcare allowances -- and suggested jokingly that
"compulsory gay marriage" might be proposed.
"I was frank and open – it was not a speech read-out, but 'frei von der
Leber' as we say in German," he said in his apology -- literally "free
from the liver", or very blunt.
"My message was to give a wake-up call to the German audience: if the
Germans focus their political work on reducing the retirement age,
increasing pensions etc., no-one should be surprised if we lose the
global battle for competitiveness.
"The same goes for Europe as a whole. We need to double our efforts and
not take a nap and rest on the sofa."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek)
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