ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt called on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to come clean Thursday (6 November), following revelations of massive tax-avoidance practices in his native Luxembourg, during Juncker’s premiership.
In a communiqué, Verhofstadt stated that the Commission should come to the European Parliament immediately, in order to explain if the secret tax deals between more than 300 international companies and Luxembourg, are in accordance with EU law.
The Socialists and Democrats also said that they will ask the European Commission to come to the European Parliament next week to explain the urgent action they intend to take in order to fight tax evasion and tax fraud.
Based on a review of nearly 28,000 pages of confidential documents, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said that the companies appear to have channelled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes.
“We find it unacceptable that citizens and SMEs are expected to pay high taxes in this period of crisis, whilst many in the corporate sector seem to do everything they can to minimise taxes. If the reports are right, in many instances they are paying virtually none,” Verhofstadt said.
The leader of the liberal group took centre stage at a Brussels conference called “The Brussels Days”, replacing Juncker, who canceled his participation in the last moment. Former Commission President Jacques Delors, who was also expected to appear alongside Juncker, also canceled his participation, due to health reasons.
The French magazine L’Obs and the Belgian dailies Le Soir and Der Standaart, organisers of the event, reacted angrily to Juncker’s absence.
“The policy of the empty chair has never helped advance the dialogue,” they stated.
Verhofstadt was only happy to steal the show. He made the audience laugh, by saying that he was quick to accept the invitation, for the simple reason that he had always wanted to be Commission President.
“I could not miss the occasion to replace two presidents of the European Commission. The President we elected a few days ago, and the best President we have ever had, Mr Delors,” he said.
Other political groups also reacted to the “Luxembourg leaks”.
The centre-right EPP said it fully supported the European Commission in the ongoing investigation on schemes in Luxembourg and other members States opened by former Commissioner Joaquín Almunia and at present under current Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
The EPP however considers that this is not “a personal issue” for Commission President Juncker and expresses trust that under his leadership, the EU executive would step up efforts to combat tax evasion and tax fraud.
Unsurprisingly, the leaders of the green the leftist and far-right forces that voted against the Juncker commission cried foul at the scandal.
Sven Giegold, head of the Greens group in the European Parliament, calling the revelations “a major blow” to Juncker’s credibility.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front national, called on Juncker to resign.
“In the face of this international scandal, which poses a problem which is not just political but also ethical and moral, the Front National calls for the resignation of M. Juncker and immediate explanations from successive governments about these tax evasion practices about which, everything suggests, they were informed,” Le Pen stated.
Pierre Laurent, President of the Party of the European Left, said he supported the initiative of MEPs from the GUE-NGL, who want to propose a motion of censure against the Commission in the European Parliament, and an extraordinary meeting of the Parliament.
The Eurosceptic UKIP took the opportunity to state that “the EU-elite take care of their rich international corporate friends while they force austerity on working people”.
However, Steven Woolfe, the UKIP MEP who has strongly criticised Juncker over the disclosures, stopped short of demanding his resignation.