EU's Juncker survives confidence vote

27th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Jean-Claude Juncker and his European Commission survived a no confidence vote in the European Parliament on Thursday over the "Luxleaks" tax scandal just a month into his team's five-year mandate.

In the vote in the parliament in Strasbourg, 101 MEPs approved the censure motion filed by eurosceptic parties, 461 voted against it and 88 abstained, parliament president Martin Schulz said.

One group of lawmakers held up red banners saying "No Tax Havens" just seconds before the vote, but were ordered to remove them.

The motion focused on revelations from a journalistic investigation that showed Luxembourg gave tax deals to dozens of global firms during Juncker's 19 years as prime minister of the tiny duchy.

Juncker and his team of 27 commissioners, who took office on November 1, had been virtually certain to survive the vote as major political groups had already said they opposed the censure motion.

The motion required a majority of two-thirds of MEPs to pass.

But it still took some of the lustre off Juncker's announcement a day earlier of a giant 315-billion-euro ($380 billion) investment plan aimed at jumpstarting the stalling EU economy.

It also came just two days after Pope Francis criticised the "bureaucratic technicalities" strangling the European dream, in a blistering speech to the same parliament.

Critics say political veteran Juncker is too much of a Brussels insider to restore the faith of increasingly sceptical European voters who turned to anti-EU parties in European Parliament elections in May.

Many of those parties -- Italian comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star movement, Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's group -- were behind the censure motion.

- 'Aggressive tax avoidance' -

The motion said that they have "no confidence in Mr Juncker as the President of the European Commission".

"It is intolerable that a person who has been responsible for aggressive tax avoidance policies should serve as President of the European Commission," it adds.

The Commission, the European Union's executive arm, is arguably the most powerful institution in Brussels with influence over laws and policies that affect more than 500 million people across 28 countries in what is the world's largest economy.

The Luxleaks investigation revealed thousands of leaked files that showed Luxembourg allowed hundreds of top companies -- including Apple, Pepsi, IKEA and Heinz -- to enjoy tax breaks during Juncker's time as premier.

Juncker has firmly denied any wrongdoing.

When Euro MPs debated the motion on Monday, he repeated a vow to tighten measures against tax avoidance and tax fraud.

"The commission that I have the honour of leading will fight tax evasion and tax fraud. Don't doubt my word," Juncker told parliament.

But he also begged lawmakers to "please stop insulting me" after Marine Le Pen compared him to US gangster Al Capone.

Juncker's supporters said the vote is an "exercise in self-promotion" by the eurosceptics.

There have only been nine previous censure motions against the European Commission since 1979, European Parliament officials said.

In 1999 the commission led by Jacques Santer resigned over corruption allegations to avoid a no confidence vote.


© 2014 AFP

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