23rd Apr 2019


Juncker: 'It's not 'my' problem, it's 'our' problem'

  • Juncker (r) hid from press for a week, before voicing 'regret' (Photo: European Commission)

A level teaspoon of grudging credit where grudging credit is due.

After completely fluffing his response to the LuxLeaks last week (i.e. by disappearing), the erstwhile Grand Duchy PM evidently realised that a G20 meeting 1,000s of kilometres away, on the taboo topic itself, would not be the most politic way of breaking his silence.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

So he traipsed down to the press room on Wednesday, six days after the revelations about Luxembourg's elaborate corporate tax avoidance schemes, and two days before occupying an international stage on the matter, and was regretful.

He did the only thing that could be done in a situation where he was not the architect, had no influence over the tax authorities, but might have been politically responsible anyway - he made it everybody else's 'issue' too.

It was a tour de force in what might be called shifting the emphasis. A laconic resetting of the camera lens to take the zoom focus off Luxembourg and pan out to the rest of EU.

If only, he said, in the manner of one wishing that it might rain less in Belgium, we could just all agree on the common corporate tax base. Then many of these "problems" might disappear.

Expanding on the poacher-turned-gamekeeper mode, the two-weeks-in-office European Commission president, said more transparency was in the offing.

There would soon be a proposal that would oblige member states to automatically tell one another about when they were going to offer companies the opportunity to pay virtually no tax, or, in the new term we've all just learned, give them "comfort letters".

He said the same to MEPs - who, by and large, weren't out to make life difficult for him - a few hours later. He also included a dig at a freewheeling Guy Verhofstaft, who was busy gesticulating about the inequities of tax evasion.

Sharing a moment of Beneluxish understanding, the Luxembourger reminded the Belgian MEP - also a PM in his former life - that the country he knows best is not exactly a paragon of virtue when it comes to corporate tax.

So there it stands.

We are now back to square one. Or, it might be said, square 2011, when the European Commission first proposed the common corporate tax base.

The initiative has remained ‘stuck’ ever since, as thoroughly disliked now as it was way back then.

Nevertheless, the commission is now going to breathe life back into the proposal. It is going re-shape it.

After that, who knows. The decision to go further belongs to the member states, noted Juncker's spokesperson: "Let's see who follow and who blocks".

Juncker is now the “protagonist” in the fight against tax evasion.

So who's the baddie now?

Of course neither common tax base nor the transparency proposal will make it on to the EU statute books in any meaningful form – there are vetoes to be had in this area of law-making.

But lucky Juncker.

From the man who once said he would fight a proposed EU law on changing VAT rules, and who resisted a proposed savings directive until the very end, he finds himself out of national office when the political winds apparently really have changed.

Just because it’s legal does not mean it was morally right is the new (stated) philosophy.

And now all that remains to be seen is whether what went on really was legal. All those tax breaks - did they breach EU rules?

The commission has just said the Dutch sweetheart deal with Starbucks may amount to illegal state aid.

For now, Juncker has managed to deflect the focus with the argument that everyone else is doing it too.

But his position remains awkward.

The spotlight will turn right back onto him should his own commission find that the Grand Duchy also broke the rules.

If it says the Duchy didn't break the rules, there will be lingering questions as to why.


Where is Juncker?

Our new 'political' commission arrived on Monday, wobbled into being on Tuesday; had its highpoint on Wednesday, and shut up shop on Thursday.

EU commission plans bolstering rule of law toolbox

As EU concerns over rule of law in some member states grow, the commission opens a debate on tools to discipline unruly member states. The EU executive has launched a new probe against Poland, and put Romania on the spot.

Centre-right EPP faces showdown with Orban

The EU's largest political alliance, the EPP, will try to put the 'Orban issue' behind it going into the European election campaign. Hungary's ruling party, Fidesz, could be expelled or suspended from the political family.


Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Ukraine comic-president invited to EU capitals
  2. Trump's Israel plan to 'test' EU resolve
  3. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  4. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  5. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  6. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  7. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  8. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us