Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete will have to appear before the European Parliament to respond to the accusations of his alleged involvement in the Panama Papers scandal, and a corruption case in Spain.
However, the leaders of Parliament’s political groups (the Conference of Presidents) agreed on 2 June on scheduling the hearing after the Spanish elections on 26 June.
Cañete will appear before the committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) during its session on 11-12 July, officials from various groups told EURACTIV.com.
MEPs will grill the Commissioner on his wife’s participation in a shell company based in Panama.
The European Commission’s chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, explained that the case did not represent a conflict of interest, as the company has been inactive since 2010, long before the Spanish politician took over the Climate and Energy portfolio in November 2014.
Moreover, the executive stressed that Cañete and his wife, Micaela Domecq, signed a prenuptial agreement, and he was not aware of the family businesses she was involved in with her brothers.
Before the Panama Papers were published, the Commissioner was already under the spotlight due to the corruption scandal linked to Acuamed, a Spanish firm which develops water infrastructure, which took place when he was Spain’s Minister of Agriculture and Environment.
A judge is investigating irregularities on the assignment of an estimated 20 contracts involving around €700 million, mostly EU funds. OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, is cooperating with the Spanish authorities to see how the EU money was used.
In their testimony, government officials pointed out that Cañete protected Arcadio Mateo, Acuamed’s chief and the alleged ‘brain’ of the corruption scheme.
Cañete has declined to date to comment on the Acuamed case given that there is an investigation ongoing.
Against this backdrop, the Socialists & Democrats, and the left-wing Podemos party, will ask for his resignation.
Iratxe García, head of the Spanish S&D delegation, stated that “Spain does not deserve being represented by a person being questioned.”
She said that the hearing is of “maximum importance” for the Socialists and Democrats, given that “Cañete hid over the last months, while doubts kept piling up on his involvement in Acuamed and the Panamá papers.” “Finally, we will shed some light on a shady management, full of shadows,” she added.
Meanwhile, a person close to the Commissioner told EURACTIV that the Commissioner has been always ready to appear before the MEPs in the spirit of “full transparency”.
Cañete is expected to give an initial statement on his compliance with the commissioners’ code of conduct. However, the details and the format of the hearing remain to be finalised between the coordinators of the political groups.
After the elections
EPP sources said that the conservative group agreed on the hearing as long as it takes place after the Spanish elections. Meanwhile, S&D sources argued that it is not possible to schedule Cañete’s grilling for the next session on 13-14 June given the time constrains to organise the meeting.
Depending on the outcome of the hearing, the Spanish Commissioner could be summoned to appear again before the new parliamentary inquiry committee on the Panama Papers.
The Parliament´s Conference of Presidents gave the green light on 2 June for setting up this new inquiry committee.
According to the draft mandate of the inquiry committee, MEPs want to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”. In particular, the failure of the Commission to enforce and the member states to implement anti-money laundering directives and legislation to avoid tax evasion.
The European Parliament is expected to vote on the mandate during its 6-9 June plenary session. The members of the committee will be confirmed afterwards.
Initially, the Socialists & Democrats wanted Cañete to appear only before the new inquiry committee. However, given the numerous procedural steps still pending, the critics of the Spanish Commissioner decided to request a hearing with Cañete “as soon as possible”, a source explained. His testimony before the JURI committee will also give lawmakers the opportunity to grill the commissioner on Acuamed.
Following the decision on commissioner Cañete's hearing, Iratxe Garcia, head of the Spanish delegation of the S&D group said: "Our goal has always been to gather the maximum support to convey a strong message in favour of transparency, justice and against tax evasion."
Greens/EFA co-president Philippe Lamberts said on the new inquiry committee: It is clear existing EU rules against money laundering are not being properly enforced and that the EU institutions, governments and authorities have failed in their duties to this end. It is necessary to carry out a comprehensive investigation to ensure the proper consequences follow at EU level.
The Panama Papers exposed offshore companies used to avoid tax, and has embroiled figures including Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, David Cameron, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
It comes at a time when tax avoidance is high on the political agenda.
The fight against tax evasion is one of the Juncker Commission's main priorities. News of the systematic, state-sanctioned tax evasion practices of many multinationals based in Luxembourg, known as the Luxleaks scandal, broke shortly after the new Commission was sworn in.
On 18 March, the executive presented a package of measures aimed at strengthening tax transparency, notably by introducing a system for the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings between member states.
- 6-9 June: European Parliament's plenary session
- 11-12 July: Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI)
European Parliament: draft mandate for setting up the inquiry committee.