Sunday

24th Jul 2016

Juncker wants 'fair deal' for Britain

  • I am no federalist, Juncker says. (Photo: European Peoples Party, EPP)

Future EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has denied being a federalist and said he wants a "fair deal" for Britain on the terms of its EU membership.

Speaking to the British Conservative-dominated ECR group in the European Parliament on Tuesday (8 July), Juncker said he is in favour of a "practical arrangement" with the UK that takes into account their demands.

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"I wanted since the very beginning of my campaign to have a fair deal with Britain. Sometimes I'm reading that I was inventing after 25 May this idea of having a fair deal with Britain. I was announcing this on 23 April as one of my five priorities. I was the only candidate advocating for a fair deal with Britain, so don't tell me that I'm inventing this thing now," he said.

British politicians and media have portrayed Juncker as a rabid federalist, with The Sun, a tabloid, calling him the "most dangerous man in Europe."

But Juncker said he is no "arch-villain".

"You can't launch European ambitions without having member states on your side. Nations are not a temporary invention of history, they are forever. So I don't want to be described - as I was - as an arch-federalist. I don't know what this really means. As a representative of a very small nation, I know what nations are about and how important member states really are," Juncker explained.

He went on reassuring his audience that he wants Europe to be "big on big things and small on small," - a recurrent theme with British PM David Cameron, who wants to repatriate powers from Brussels before putting the EU membership to a referendum if he gets re-elected in 2017.

"Local authorities, regions, nations are often better placed in finding solutions to their problems," Juncker said.

Responding to accusations that he is an old face incapable of carrying out reforms, the 59-year old said it's true he has been around for a long time, but pointed out that it was his idea to give Britain an opt-out from the euro back in 1991 when the treaty of Maastricht was negotiated.

"To describe me as a guy who is fiercely anti-British is simply not reflecting the major part of my biography. I was always trying to have fair deals with Britain, I did it in the '90s and I will do it at the beginning of this century," he said.

Even though the ECR group is the third-largest in the European Parliament, Juncker is not relying on their votes next Tuesday when MEPs are set to approve his appointment as commission chief.

Speaking after the meeting, ECR leader Syed Kamall said that "there were many areas where we believe we can work with him if he is confirmed". But he added that because the group does not support the system of "Spitzenkandidaten" - the idea of giving top jobs to people whose pates win the EU elections - they will vote against him.

Taxation

One contentious issue around Juncker's appointment is his role in establishing Luxembourg as a tax haven for multinational corporations.

In his hearings with the Socialist, Green and ECR groups, Juncker tried to portray his experience as PM of Luxembourg as a good background for wanting to fight tax evasion.

"I will be among those who will fight against tax evasion. I know that having been the prime minister of Luxembourg, an overwhelming majority of you consider this not to be a guidebook. I want to tell you that progress made in Europe against tax evasion was always under Luxembourg's presidency," he said.

He noted that he is in favour of a corporate tax base, which "may not be good for some countries, but is good for Europe."

"We should introduce morality in the European tax landscape, so that governments are not victims of tax competition," he said.

For its part, the Financial Times on Wednesday reported that the EU commission has started an inquiry into Luxembourg's tax deals for multinational corporations, creating a potential conflict of interest once Juncker takes up the commission top job.

The probe also includes Ireland and the Netherlands for similar deals with companies of the likes of Apple and Google.

The Luxembourg case revolves around Italian carmaker Fiat and could expand to US online retailer Amazon.

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