Democratic Deficit It's Time to Put Juncker on the Hot Seat

Can the European Commission be led by a man who transformed his own country into a tax oasis? The debate is long overdue and Jean-Claude Juncker can no longer afford to shirk the question.

Luxembourg's taxation practices may come back to haunt European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
REUTERS

Luxembourg's taxation practices may come back to haunt European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.


The European Union has a problem -- and a serious one at that. On the surface, the issue is about the tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg that were engineered during former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's tenure. And about the billions of euros in revenues lost by other EU countries as a result. But the true problem in this affair actually runs a lot deeper. At issue is just how seriously we take the new European democracy that Juncker himself often touts.

The criticism of Juncker came less than a week after he took office. Leaked tax documents released last Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how large corporations have taken advantage of loose policies in Luxembourg to evade paying taxes. At a time of slow economic growth and tight national budgets, sensitivity has grown in large parts of the EU over countries that facilitate legal tax evasion.

Juncker is fond of pointing out proudly that he was Europe's first "leading candidate," and the first to be more-or-less directly elected as president of the European Commission. Across Europe, many celebrated it as the moment when more democracy came to the EU. Unfortunately, optimism blinded people to one salient fact: European politicians themselves never took this newfound democracy particularly seriously.

Cunning and Self-Interest

In contrast to the United States, where getting to know the candidates is a matter of course, the EU never had any intent of truly introducing its leading politicians to the people. This has created a situation in which a person like Juncker can effectively lead two lives. One as an (honest) proponent of the EU and the other as a cunning former leader of an EU member state who promoted Luxembourg's self-interest by blocking treaties that would have forced the country to adopt stricter tax policies.

During the election campaign, Juncker was never really explained how these seemingly divergent personalities might fit together. Nor was he forced to. Early on, his Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz decided to form an alliance with the conservative Juncker. So has not to endanger their own power, Schulz and co. avoided asking uncomfortable questions.

We EU correspondents share some of the blame as well by going too easy on Juncker. Our American counterparts would have been left scratching their heads in confusion.

For as unappetizing as America's media-driven democracy can be at times, its core principle is a good one. The media there is charged with closely examining each political candidate who wants to exercise power -- even if that scrutiny is painful. Democracy is not meant only for fair-weather.

Overly personal details -- like who is sleeping with whom or how much a person drinks and when -- do not necessarily have to be part of such reporting. But it should surely include an analysis of the tax dealings of the politician's country of origin and how that official might respond if the Commission is forced to open an investigation into his or her own country.

It would have been nice to hear answers to such questions from the candidate Juncker during the campaign. Now, we must demand them from the Commission President Juncker. His comments thus far -- to the effect that he is "very serene" in the face of the allegations and his insistence that he would not interfere in the investigation -- are not enough. This time, he cannot be allowed to duck the question.

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andre.depre 11/10/2014
1. Less taxes, not more taxes, create jobs and prosperity.
Jean-Claude Juncker may be the right man to turn the EU into a tax oasis. It is not more taxes that will create or keep jobs and prosperity in the EU. It is LESS taxes!
aviator9152 11/11/2014
2. Juncker
I am afraid that the other commissioners are simply going to close ranks here, if not to protect Juncker then to protect the ever onwards march of federalism and closer union. Democracy, or "populism" in EU speak, will not be allowed to derail the grand project!!
peskyvera 11/12/2014
3.
Just as corrupt as the rest - no better, no worse.
robcarver 11/13/2014
4.
And no acknowledgment that Cameron was the one person to object to Juncker As for the democratic deficit, the truly elected leaders (of countries) simply support weaklings who they think that they can control. I doubt if many EU voters genuinely believe that they participated in electing Junckers. Indeed the biggest gains in latest elections were from parties rejecting greater federal integration, yet the outcome is Junckers! Amazing.
david.stibbs 11/15/2014
5. Agreed, Less is more (Taxes)
I must agree with the silent majority where it comes to taxes we all would like to keep our hard earned money for our families and needs. It all gets spent (you can't take it with) so the governments do in fact get it all sooner (now) or later (at death) but the real economy would be boosted by more circulation of cash, credit etc as the powers that be well know.
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