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The Brief: Will Juncker fight dirty for the EU like he did for Luxembourg?


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EurActiv | The Brief

Today's EU policy news, 04.01.2017, 5PM


Will Juncker fight dirty for the EU like he did for Luxembourg?


By James Crisp

LuxLeaks clings resolutely to Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission presidency like a bad smell.

Juncker welcomed in 2017 with unsurprising headlines that he had resisted anti-tax avoidance measures when he was Luxembourg’s prime minister.

The timing could have been better. The German diplomatic cables were leaked the day before the European Commission’s new system allowing member states to compare each other tax deals with multinational companies entered into force.

Juncker was Luxembourg’s prime minister at a time when many sweetheart deals with multinationals were struck. LuxLeaks broke in November 2014 when Juncker took over as Commission president.

He rode out the storm and his Commission has broken new ground on tax legislation.

But it doesn’t really matter what Jean-Claude Juncker does to fight tax evasion. He is perceived to have had his hands in the till, so can expect no praise.

To be fair to the wily old fox, he did Luxembourg proud over his 18 years in charge. The country transformed itself from a declining steel economy into an internationally renowned tax haven.

Okay, its justice system dances to the tune of its multinational paymasters but what was the alternative?

Luxembourg can’t grab an accordion and get on the metro to raise cash. Juncker took control of the situation and made the best of it.

As the cables show, once he’d wrested an advantage for his people, he was prepared to fight dirty to preserve it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Tiny Luxembourg needed to punch above its weight. Juncker was the Machiavellian bruiser the Duchy needed.

We are regularly told the EU is facing unprecedented pressure from things like Brexit , "populism" and Euroscepticism.

If true, it is time for Juncker to take the gloves off, get stuck in to his opponents, and land a few blows below the belt.

Is Juncker willing to don the knuckledusters for the EU? Does he have another fight in him or is he shot? Where’s the evidence the veteran has even got in the ring?

Perhaps Juncker prefers to do his political streetfighting on the quiet. Or perhaps his heart just isn’t in it.


The Roundup

In an email announcing his resignation, Sir Ivan Rogers told staff at the UK perm rep yesterday that they should "speak the truth to those in power" and challenge "ill-founded arguments".

The two socialists gunning for the French presidency have both started flying their pro-EU flags in a race that has featured notably few mentions of Europe. Valls is promising he won't make deep spending cuts.

Meanwhile, right-wing candidate François Fillon is flaunting his Catholicism in a bid to woo conservative voters. Marine Le Pen said today that there could still be an ECU-style common currency in addition to national currencies even if the euro is abandoned as she wishes.

Italian police confirmed today that the same gun was used during the Berlin attack that killed 12 people on 19 December and to shoot at police outside Milan four days later.

Turkey's parliament has voted to extend emergency rule after a string of terrorist attacks including the New Year’s Eve massacre in Istanbul.

Inflation is on the rise in Germany, France and Italy, and Spain's banking sector is out of the woods after years of crisis. Marks and Spencer and other British retailers are seeing a slip in stock prices over Brexit.

Austria might be gearing up to tackle violence in Ukraine while it chairs the OSCE this year.


Look out for...

Juncker is travelling to Lisbon and will meet both the Prime Minister and President of Portugal. He will give a speech at the 2017 Portuguese Diplomatic Seminar.

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