?To the frustration of Brussels correspondents, on Thursday (6 November), chief Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas declined to comment on the latest revelation of secret tax deals between more than 300 international companies and Luxembourg on behalf of the current Commission President and former Luxembourg prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the absence of Juncker himself at the EU executive’s midday press briefing, Schinas played down the importance of the leaked documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which reveal that companies might have channeled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes via special tax evasion schemes.
“The rules of state aid schemes are well-known. This is part of member states’ efforts to stimulate their economies and they will continue to do so. The Commission’s role is to make sure that all these schemes are investigated and the rules of the Treaty applied,” Schinas said.
The spokesperson added that the Commission is already acting on the matter as the previous Commissioner for Competition, Joaquín Almunia, has presented a number of cases and that the new Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, will follow up on the cases to make sure that the state aid legislation is properly enforced.
Schinas said that all relevant questions on the schemes should now be addressed to Luxembourgish authorities, though all the cases occurred while Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg, between 1995 and 2013, and referred to the Commission President’s previous applies.
On Wednesday (6 November), Juncker said that the Commission was perfectly within its right to investigate, and that he would not interfere in the work of his Commissioner for Competition.
“I wouldn’t do it, because that would not be decent. I have my idea about the issue, but I will keep it to myself,” Juncker said.
Schinas noted that previous Commission presidents José Manuel Barroso from Portugal and Romano Prodi from Italy lead dozens of cases against their home countries during their respective terms.
Danish journalists present at the press conference pointed out that Juncker has put his Competition Commissioner in an awkward situation, in case the investigation leads to Juncker and to decisions that he made as prime minister or was involved in making. Therefore, Danish MEPs have also called for an independent investigation outside of the Commission.
“Vestager will do her job and no one can tell her what to do and not to do,” Schinas responded.
Meanwhile, an Italian journalist said that it was “scandalous” that while many Italian companies may have been involved in the Luxembourgish tax evasion schemes, leading to a deepening of the financial crisis in Italy, the Southern European country could now witness the former prime minister of Luxembourg, whose country benefitted from these schemes, imposing further austerity measures in Italy.
On Thursday afternoon, Juncker was supposed to take part in the inaugural conference “Days of Brussels” together with former Commission President Jacques Delors, but around midday, the organisers announced that Juncker had canceled.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who succeeded Juncker a year ago, said his country had not broken any rules and it was not alone in allowing tax schemes for big companies.
Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna told reporters in Brussels that Luxembourg would work with other states to level the tax playing field: “The moment that there is a recognition in the international community that fiscal matters must be equitable and the information should be shared, then Luxembourg would have no problem going in the direction of more transparency.”
He defended Juncker, saying it was wrong to single out “one politician for a particular period of time”.