Karel De Gucht

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Karel De Gucht
Karel-de-gucht.jpg
European Commissioner for Trade
Incumbent
Assumed office
9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Trade and Neighbourhood Policy)
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
In office
17 July 2009 – 9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Louis Michel
Succeeded by Andris Piebalgs (Development)
Kristalina Georgieva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response)
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
18 July 2004 – 17 July 2009
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Yves Leterme
Herman Van Rompuy
Preceded by Louis Michel
Succeeded by Yves Leterme
Personal details
Born (1954-01-27) 27 January 1954 (age 60)
Overmere, Belgium
Political party Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats
Spouse(s) Mireille Schreurs
Children Frédéric
Jean-Jacques
Alma mater Free University of Brussels, Dutch
Website Official website

Karel Lodewijk Georgette Emmerence De Gucht (Dutch: [ˈkarəl̪ d̪ə ˈɣ̟ʏx̟ t̪]; born 27 January 1954) is a Belgian politician who has been the European Commissioner for Trade since 2010.[1] Previously, he was Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2009 and then European Commissioner for Development & Humanitarian Aid from 2009 to 2010.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Overmere, De Gucht became president of the Flemish Liberal Students while studying in Brussels. He was a member of the European Parliament from 1995 to 1999 and a member of the Flemish Parliament from 1999 to 2003. Although he was elected to the Federal Parliament in the general elections on 18 May 2003 and to European Parliament in the elections of June 2004, he decided to take up neither seat and instead he was appointed the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs on 18 July 2004. De Gucht served as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE in 2006.[citation needed]

De Gucht was also chairman of the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), a Belgian political party, for a time. In January 2004 he was forced to step down as chairman and was temporarily replaced until after the elections of 4 June by Dirk Sterckx. The reason for his resignation was a conflict between Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and him about a proposal to give non-citizen immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections, which De Gucht opposed.[citation needed] The conflict severely damaged the party's reputation, as reflected in the 2004 Belgian regional elections results.[citation needed]

Controversy[edit]

On a trip to Africa in late 2004, De Gucht sparked a diplomatic controversy when he said that "there is a problem with the political class in the Congo" and questioned its ability to tackle corruption.[3] After De Gucht criticised President Joseph Kabila's provisional DRC government as chaotic, Congolese Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi accused him of "racism and nostalgia for colonialism", remarking that it was like "Tintin in the Congo all over again". De Gucht refused to retract his statement.[4][5]

In November 2008, while De Gucht was a minister in the federal government, he was accused of insider trading in the case of the near-bankruptcy and subsequent nationalisation and sale of Fortis Bank.[6] On 3 October 2008, his wife, Mireille Schreurs, and brother-in-law sold their shares in Fortis Bank after a governmental crisis meeting to deal with the precarious financial situation of the bank, hours before the public announcement that the Dutch arm of the bank would be nationalised and the partly nationalised Belgian and Luxembourg branches sold to BNP Paribas.[7] An anonymous complaint was received by the Belgian Banking, Finance and Insurance Commission alleging De Gucht's wife sold €500,000 worth of Fortis shares.[8] De Gucht acknowledges that his wife and brother-in-law sold their mother's shares in Fortis Bank on the date in question for a smaller amount than alleged, but they deny that any insider trading was involved. He also points out that he personally lost €85,000 as a result of the nationalisation and sale, and that his son, Jean-Jacques De Gucht, and mother kept their shares in the failing bank.[9] The Ghent public prosecutor ultimately decided not to pursue an investigation in the matter stating "there is nothing to indicate that De Gucht encouraged his wife, brother-in-law or any third party to sell their Fortis shares quickly".[10]

In an interview with the Belgian Flemish public radio VRT about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the September 2010 Washington talks, De Gucht expressed his scepticism about the process stating:

"Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best organised lobby, you shouldn't underestimate the grip it has on American politics – no matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats.[11]

He continued

"Don't underestimate the opinion … of the average Jew outside Israel. There is indeed a belief – it's difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right. And a belief is something that's difficult to counter with rational arguments. And it's not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East. It's a very emotional issue."[12][13]

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) expressed outrage, describing the remarks as antisemitic and demanding an apology and a retraction from De Gucht.[14] De Gucht responded with the following statement:

"I gave an interview yesterday to the Flemish radio. I was also asked about the Middle East peace talks. I gave my personal point of view. I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend. I did not mean in any possible way to cause offense or stigmatize the Jewish Community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world and is fundamentally against our European values."[15]

De Gucht's remarks made it on the list of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of the "2010 Top Ten Anti-Semitic Slurs".[16]

Separately in April 2012, he attracted criticism for a groundless statement as EU Trade Commissioner that Ireland was "already out of recession".[17] Ireland had 15% unemployment at the time he made his remarks.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Since February 2010 European Commissioner for Trade
  2. ^ 2009–2010 European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
  3. ^ Belgium rounds on former colony, BBC, 2004-10-18, accessed on 2010-01-06
  4. ^ BBC News staff (22 October 2004). "DR Congo slams 'Tintin' minister". BBC News. 
  5. ^ Cendrowicz, Leo (4 May 2010). "Tintin: Heroic Boy Reporter or Sinister Racist?". TIME (New York City). Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  6. ^ (Dutch) "Vrouw De Gucht verkocht Fortis-aandelen met voorkennis". Demorgen.be. 18 June 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "Alston.com". Alston.com. Retrieved 14 January 2013. [dead link]
  8. ^ Leo Cendrowicz (14 July 2009). "De Gucht moves to European Commission". Flanderstoday.eu. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  9. ^ (Dutch) "De Gucht: "Fortis-aandelen zijn pure privézaak"". Demorgen.be. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "Expatica.com". Expatica.com. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Lipman, Jennifer (3 September 2010). "Outcry over EU man's 'antisemitic' remarks". The Jewish Chronicle (London). 
  12. ^ De Gucht, Karel (2 September 2010). "Vredesgesprekken Midden-Oosten begonnen". Radio 1 (Brussels). 
  13. ^ Traynor, Ian (3 September 2010). "Anger at EU chief's Middle East outburst". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ Yossi Lempkowicz (3 September 2010). "EU Commission: Karel De Gucht’s remarks on Jews 'are personal comments'". EJP (European Jewish Press). Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  15. ^ John W. Miller, "EU Official in Trouble for Remarks on Jews," Wall Street Journal (3 September 2010).
  16. ^ "2010 Top Ten Anti-Semitic Slurs" (PDF). Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Meanwhile, In Ghent"

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Louis Michel
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2004–2009
Succeeded by
Yves Leterme
Belgian European Commissioner
2009–present
Incumbent
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
2009–2010
Succeeded by
Andris Piebalgs
as European Commissioner for Development
Succeeded by
Kristalina Georgieva
as European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Preceded by
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
as European Commissioner for Trade and Neighbourhood Policy
European Commissioner for Trade
2010–present
Incumbent