EU chief apologises for jokes about Chinese people and ‘mandatory gay marriage’

A European Commissioner has issued a formal apology for joking that Germany might make same-sex marriage mandatory.

Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, made the comments in a speech to a Hamburg business meeting last month.

Mr Oettinger, a member of Angela Merkel’s right-wing CDU, was filmed apparently mocking Germany’s “liberal” attitude, saying: “The German agenda has mandatory pensions, retirement as 63, child care allowance, the silly Autobahn toll that will never be introduced… after that, perhaps the obligatory homosexual marriage will be introduced! The German agenda does not fulfil my expectations of German responsibility at all.”

Same-sex marriage continues to be banned in Germany.

He also allegedly referred to Chinese people as having “slit eyes”, but the comments were not caught on camera.

Referring to a Chinese trade delegation, he recalled: “Nine men, one party, no democracy. No female quota, and no women, which follows logically. All of them in suits, single breasted dark blue jackets. All of them had their hair combed from left to right, with black shoe polish on their hair.”

Though he had initially insisted the comments were “out of context”, Mr Oettinger issued a formal apology today.

He said: “I had time to reflect on my speech, and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people.

“This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been.

“I was frank and open – it was not a speech read-out, but ‘frei von der Leber’ [improvised] as we say in German.

“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. We need to set the right priorities – in a democratic and balanced way. In my speech I had chosen some examples (and once again my apologies if my words caused negative feelings.)

He insisted: “I have great respect for the dynamics of the Chinese economy – China is a partner and a tough competitor. Therefore we need a level playing field where Chinese companies can buy European ones and European companies can buy Chinese ones. It is important to have that access on both sides – and I see room for improvement here.”

Speaking to Die Welt previously, Oettinger defended his comments about same-sex marriage.

Asked if he had something against same-sex marriage, he said: “No, not at all. I put gay marriage in a list of topics, initiatives and debates mentioned that determine the political agenda in Germany.

“My concern was to add to this list of issues – particularly on the subject of economic competitiveness.

“Whoever made this recording didn’t want to show the full picture, but present parts out of context. I got a lot of positive encouragement at the event.”