EU's Juncker faces confidence vote

27th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

The European Parliament holds a confidence vote Thursday on Jean-Claude Juncker and his entire Commission over the "Luxleaks" tax scandal, in a symbolic but still damaging move less than a month into his five-year mandate.

Juncker and his team of 27 commissioners, who took office on November 1, are virtually certain to survive the vote as major political groups have opposed the censure motion, filed last week by eurosceptic groups.

The motion focuses 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.

Two-thirds of MEPs would have to back the no confidence motion in order for it to pass in the vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which is due around 1100 GMT.

The vote threatens to take 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 comes 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.

The motion says 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 say the vote is an "exercise in self-promotion" by the eurosceptics.

© 2014 AFP

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