German EU commissioner’s mocking of Chinese sparks outrage

Speech had swipes at gay marriage, gender quotas and ‘slitty-eyed’ Beijing delegation

European Commissioner for the digital economy and society Günther Oettinger has become a figure of fun in his native Germany – and has caused fury in China – after mocking a “slitty-eyed” Beijing delegation to Brussels.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “full support” for the EU digital agenda commissioner, poised to take on the budget portfolio next year, after a recording emerged of Mr Oettinger joking in Hamburg that Dr Merkel’s social policy agenda would soon see Germany facing “compulsory gay marriage”.

During his speech, posted to YouTube, he joked about an identically-dressed Chinese delegation to the commission: "Nine men, one party. No democracy, no female quota, and no women . . . their hair combed from left to right with shoe polish".

His speech included swipes at gay marriage, gender quotas, and a proposed motorway toll – issues he suggested Germany was prioritising at the cost of preserving its competitiveness in the world.

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Mr Oettinger said they had been taken out of the context of a speech that had gone down well with his Hamburg audience. His remarks about the Chinese delegation were “somewhat sloppy . . . [but] not meant in any way disrespectfully towards China”.

‘Very special’ humour

While opposition parties attacked Mr Oettinger as a racist, homophobic embarrassment, one senior Christian Democratic Union (CDU) ally said the remarks were prime examples of Mr Oettinger’s “very special form of humour”. Oettinger allies in Brussels insisted the commissioner was a liberal and neither a racist nor a homophobe.

In Germany, hackers unimpressed with Mr Oettinger’s grasp of the digital agenda brief used the flap to issue report cards before he shifts his attention to budget responsibilities.

“His self-esteem, particularly independent of own performance, corresponded with his talkativeness,” noted one.

Even before moving to Brussels, the 63-year-old attracted attention for his remarks. As premier of the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg he used the 2007 funeral of a political predecessor to praise him as a “freedom fighter”, although the man, as a Third Reich marine judge, had pronounced death sentences.

The Hamburg remarks are not the first time Mr Oettinger has attracted attention on YouTube. A confused 2009 speech he delivered in English with a heavy Swabian accent caused widespread hilarity. In it he warned his audience of "impermanent impairment of the closed drivers for free-market economy", before adding: "I am of the opinion that the immension expansion demand from abroad for capital equipment of chems repawns of us is currently visibly increasing."

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin