Juncker holds ground on tax avoidance before EU confidence vote
Strasbourg, France (dpa) – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged lawmakers on Monday to trust his determination to tackle tax avoidance, ahead of a parliamentary confidence vote related to a tax scandal in his native Luxembourg.
The controversy, known as LuxLeaks, grew out of allegations by a team of investigative journalists that Luxembourg had helped more than 340 multinational companies avoid billions of euros in taxes during years when Juncker was prime minister.
He has since taken over the leadership of the commission, which proposes EU laws and plays a key role in ensuring they are implemented.
Eurosceptic and far-right lawmakers in the European Parliament requested the vote of confidence on the Juncker commission, saying that they hold him “directly responsible” for tax avoidance policies in Luxembourg.
“Please stop insulting me,” Juncker shot back on Monday evening during a parliamentary debate in Strasbourg, France, preceding the vote on Thursday.
“I have said before … that the commission which I have the honour to lead will fight against tax evasion and against tax fraud,” he added. “I am doing what I promised this house, I am doing it at 100 per cent, with all of my might.”
Juncker has said he will pursue new EU laws enabling the automatic exchange of information between member states whenever they set up tax deals for companies in order to improve transparency.
The motion of censure against his commission is not expected to succeed, since representatives from the conservative, socialist, liberal, green and far-left factions in the European Parliament have indicated that they will vote against it.
Although some of those groups have concerns about Juncker‘s role in Luxembourg tax affairs, they have distanced themselves from the motion because of its sponsors.
Twenty of its 76 signatories are associated with France‘s far-right National Front, while 44 come from eurosceptic ranks.
“Mr Juncker has shown that he is the antithesis of the European ideal,” said Marco Zanni of Italy‘s eurosceptic Five Star Movement. “He stole millions [in] potential revenues for member states and put them in the pockets of the multinationals.”
“No reasonable person can believe that you will fight sincerely and firmly to undo tomorrow what you have done. It would be as credible as naming Al Capone president of the security and ethics committee,” Le Pen told Juncker, referring to the legendary US gangster.
But other parliamentarians attacked Zanni, Le Pen and other supporters of the motion, which included Nigel Farage of Britain‘s eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
“You have in your faction, dear Mr Zanni, many colleagues who work with bogeyman concepts, against foreigners, against refugees, against minorities, against Jews,” conservative parliamentary leader Manfred Weber said. “You are not the new Europe, you are the old Europe.”
“Farage and Le Pen are now finally outing their hidden relationship,” added liberal parliamentary leader Guy Verhofstadt. “It‘s proof of the fact that UKIP is a hideous, racist, xenophobic … and Islamophobic thing.”
The tensions are overshadowing the events headlining the parliament‘s plenary, including a visit by Pope Francis on Tuesday and Juncker‘s unveiling on Wednesday of a 300-billion-euro (373-billion-dollar) investment plan meant to boost EU growth and jobs.