EU's Juncker survives confidence vote over tax scandal

27th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Jean-Claude Juncker sailed through a European Parliament no confidence vote over the "Luxleaks" tax scandal Thursday, but the European Commission chief still faces awkward questions just a month into his new job.

In the parliament vote in Strasbourg, just 101 MEPs approved the censure motion filed by eurosceptic parties against the entire European Commission, 461 voted against it and 88 abstained.

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.

One group of lawmakers held up red banners saying "No Tax Havens" just seconds before the vote, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but were ordered to remove them.

The motion was filed by Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party, Italian comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement and backed by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

- 'No confidence in Farage and Le Pen' -

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

Juncker's centre-right European People's Party said the defeat of the motion "sent a message of no confidence to Farage and Le Pen."

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 like Farage's and Grillo's in European Parliament elections in May.

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.

- Major global firms -

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.

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

In fact he improved on the result when the European Parliament voted on the Commission's line-up in October, when it was approved by 423 votes with 209 against and 67 abstentions.

There have only been eight previous votes on 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 while another censure motion against the Santer commission was withdrawn months before that.

© 2014 AFP

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