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EU’s Juncker drops out of debate on Europe’s future

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker dropped out of a debate Thursday on Europe’s future amid uproar over a series of massive tax avoidance deals with top companies arranged when he was Luxembourg premier.

The organisers said they regretted Juncker’s absence at a challenging time for the European Union when its 500 million citizens wanted to hear what he planned to do to get the stalled economy going again and provide jobs.

Juncker’s spokesman Margaritis Schinas said he would not attend the event in Brussels because former Commission head Jacques Delors, with whom he was to debate, was “unwell and did not travel.

” Schinas was peppered with questions about the role Juncker might have played in the tax avoidance deals Luxembourg sealed with hundreds of top firms.

Household names such as Pepsi, IKEA and Deutsche Bank were among companies named by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) following a six-month investigation of 28,000 leaked documents.

Schinas referred all such questions to the government of Luxembourg, saying Juncker represented the Commission.

The organisers, French weekly L’Obs and the Belgian newspapers Le Soir and Standaard, said they maintained their invitation to Juncker even though Delors cannot make it for “personal reasons.

” “In this pivotal year for the European project and at a time when a new commission moves in, we strongly regret that its president judged it was neither important nor opportune to come exchange views with citizens from the whole continent on the challenges that await us,” they said in a statement.

“The politics of the empty chair never helped promote dialogue.

Europe deserves real debate.

to reinvent itself in the open air,” the newspapers said.

They added that Guy Verhofstadt, head of the liberal group in the European parliament, and Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the European greens group, will speak at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT), when Juncker and Delors were supposed to attend.

The evening programme of “Brussels Days” remains intact with French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron among guests asked to tackle the issue of the economic challenges facing Europe.

Frriday’s programme also remains unchanged.