Gunther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society that will absorb Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva’s portfolio of Budget and Human Resources as she heads to the World Bank to take over the position of CEO, went on what has been widely seen as a racist rant with controversial expressions that were exposed in a youtube video and picked up by the international press. As a result, though he will take over Georgieva’s portfolio in January, he has not been announced to be also taking over her spot as Vice-President.
Oettinger vs Chinese, gay marriage, Wallonia
”Last week, the Chinese ministers were in town for the annual China-EU summit. Nine men, one party, no democracy,” said Oettinger. “All of them in dark blue, single-breasted suits. All of them had their hair combed from left to right, with black shoe-polish,” he added, during a speech in Hamburg.
During his speech, Oettinger referred to the Chinese as Schlitzaugen, (which translates in English to slant eyes), an expression that in German, as in English, is considered to be racist.
Oettinger also suggested that in the coming years German lawmakers would introduce a law for “mandatory gay marriage”, taking a stab at Germany’s national political seen, yet with a comment interpreted as homophobic.
Defending himself, Oettinger told Die Weld that “It was a somewhat slang expression that was in no way meant to show a lack of respect for China.”
“You have to see the broader context in which I made my remarks. In my speech, I wanted to warn Germany of too much self-confidence,” said Oettinger over the weekend, defending his position and quotes.
The Commissioner did not stop there, as he gave a derogatory description of the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia that politically pushed back on the eventually approved CETA, causing a three-day delay in the Brussels EU-Canada signing ceremony. Oettinger described Wallonia as a “micro-region ruled by communists”.
“The European Commission has a great deal of respect for all European regions and they are absolutely essential for the cohesion and the competitiveness of the EU.” answered European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, continuing to say that ”Wallonia is ruled by people that have been democratically elected.”
While European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker thanked the Walloon Minister President Paul Magnette for his positive remarks on the Commission’s efforts on Sunday’s press conference after the signing of CETA, it seems his Commissioner had a different opinion.
Oettinger unlikely to become Vice-President
The European Commission’s Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, refrained from commenting on Juncker’s decision regarding Oettinger’s new portfolio, but he did make it absolutely clear that Oettinger will not be promoted as Vice-President – at least not through him via the podium in the Berlaymont press room.
The Commission statement announcing Oettinger’s new position, does not mention the vacancy of a Vice-President at all, but does talk about “an orderly transition of responsibilities and the portfolio,” which can be interpreted both ways.
Although Brussels-based EU media reported that Oettinger would indeed become a Vice-President, this is looking increasingly unlikely. A high-level European Commission source that talked to New Europe about whether Oettinger will become a Vice-President said, “Don’t hold your breath,” but stopped short of confirming that this had anything to do with Oettinger’s widely criticised remarks.
Juncker, beyond the vacancy left by Georgieva, also has to look at the balance of power between member states, that many criticise is already too weighted towards Germany’s favour.
Furthermore, Schinas did not comment on Oettinger’s remarks, leaving him and President Juncker to clarify whatever needs to be clarified among themselves. “This is at the hands of President Juncker,” underlined Schinas.
“The World Bank is a public international institution in which the EU holds 30% of its capital,” clarified Schinas, suggesting that Georgieva will not be referred to the Ad hoc Ethical Committee, as by taking the job she did not violate the Code of Conduct of the Commissioners.
Oettinger not called in for explanations, yet
The only thing Schinas further elaborated was that President Juncker, according to his knowledge, had not yet called Oettinger for explanations about his remarks, as he was kept busy by the EU-Canada CETA developments throughout the weekend. “I was with the President most of the days and we were 100% occupied with CETA,” he added.
It remains to be seen how Juncker will handle Oettinger, and whether any action will be public, or kept within the walls of the Berlaymont.
“All members of the European Commission have given an oath to the Court of Justice as to their independence,” answered Schinas when the Commission’s independence was put to question after no more clarifications were provided.
In the recent past, Oettinger has surprised his audience as even if the digital agenda is at the heart of the Commission’s priorities, the Commissioner responsible seems to be rather digitally illiterate, making the Spokespersons service and his cabinet replace his original remarks from a speech with tailored ones, that would cover his lack of knowledge of the digital world.
Commissioner Oettinger’s cabinet refused to provide detailed answers to New Europe’s questions, requesting instead that our journalists… check his Twitter account rather than wait for answers; not quite in line with President Juncker’s State of the Union address where he stated: “The European institutions too, have to take responsibility.”
Meine Antworten zu den Fragen rund um das Video. https://t.co/C3OAVYK4bY
— Günther H. Oettinger (@GOettingerEU) October 29, 2016