January 5, 2017 / 1:09 PM / 3 years ago

Rights groups oppose German EU Commissioner's promotion over 'racist' remarks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Human rights and transparency groups on Thursday urged European Union lawmakers to reject the promotion of Germany’s Commissioner to head of human resources at the EU executive over remarks they view as “racist, sexist and homophobic”.

Gunther Oettinger, European Commissioner of Digital Science and Society uses mobile phones during the conservative Christian Democratic Union CDU party convention in Essen, Germany, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The campaign groups protested after Guenther Oettinger, the current Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, called Chinese people “slit-eyes” and joked about “compulsory gay marriage” - comments for which he has apologised.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced Oettinger’s appointment to a new role as Commissioner for the Budget and Human Resources in October and his confirmation hearing is due in the European Parliament on Jan. 9.

“Oettinger has made racist, sexist and homophobic remarks on several occasions in the past,” the groups wrote in an open letter.

“It is more vital than ever to have a strong and credible commitment from the European Commission to counter discrimination and act for equality for all.”

Oettinger apologised in November for the remarks which he acknowledged were “somewhat sloppy” and had “hurt” people, after China’s foreign ministry condemned his comments.

Ten organisations including Transparency International EU, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, European Women’s Lobby and the European Network Against Racism, signed the letter.

The groups also question Oettinger’s independence from corporate interests, particularly after trips he made to Budapest on a private jet belonging to a German businessman close to the Kremlin. [L8N1DI5U1]

Some EU lawmakers and non-governmental organisations have called for Oettinger’s resignation, and a number of EU parliamentarians have warned they could try to block the German during confirmation hearings for his new role.

The EU executive has been at pains to defend its proposed promotion of the 63-year-old long-time EU official to vice president while responding to criticism it fears will fuel eurosceptics following Britain’s vote to quit the 28-nation bloc.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it had taken note of the letter.

Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Richard Lough

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