Retreat: EU Budget Chief Apologises for ‘Disrespectful’ Italy Comments After Backlash

European Union (EU) Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Gunther Oettinger speaks during a press conference announcing the EU Commission's proposal for the EU Budget 2018 on May 30, 2017 at the EU Commission headquarter in Brussels. / AFP PHOTO / THIERRY CHARLIER (Photo credit should read THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/Getty Images)
THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/Getty

German European Union Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has apologised for his “disrespectful” comments after he undermined Italian democracy by saying that financial markets will “teach” the Italians to reject populism.

In a rapid backpedal on remarks that revealed the EU establishment’s disdain for Italy attempting to form a populist government, Commission Oettinger released a statement Tuesday evening:

I fully respect the will of voters being left, right or centre and in every country. By referring to the actual market developments in Italy, I did not mean to be disrespectful and I apologise for this. Italy as a founding member played and plays an important role in European integration and I hope it will continue on this path.

The comments -“the markets will teach the Italians to vote for the right thing” – were initially reported by Deutsche Welle then deleted and reissued in friendlier phrasing.

The reworded quote was hardly less condescending to the sense of democracy, with Mr. Oettinger saying he hoped that “the markets and a ‘darkened’ outlook will teach Italy’s voters not to vote for populist parties in the next elections.”

The remarks provoked backlash not only in Italy but resulted in European Council President Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker scrambling to disavow the comments and distance them from the EU.

Tusk took to Twitter to urge “all EU institutions” to “please respect the voters” while Juncker said in a statement: “Italy’s fate does not lie in the hands of the financial markets.”

However, the markets did not react negatively to the attempted formation of a government comprised of the 5 Star Movement and the League – but rather to the decision by Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella to reject a populist coalition government and install a government led by a former director of the International Monetary Fund.

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