MEPs have overwhelmingly rejected a vote of no confidence in the European Commission put forward by the UK Independence party and far-right MEPs, with 461 MEPs against and just 101 in favour. As expected, the Commission’s new president, Jean-Claude Juncker, survived the no confidence vote in Strasbourg. It comes as the latest political storm in Juncker’s term, which began only a few weeks ago.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who proposed the motion along with MEPs from Marine Le Pen’s Front National, was criticised for not being present in the chamber for the vote.
Juncker, the long-time Luxembourg premier took office less than a month ago but has already weathered several political storms, most recently involving his time as the head of the Luxembourg’s government and as its finance minister.
Investigative journalists alleged that Luxembourg had granted tax break worth billions of euros to hundreds of top companies, including Apple, IKEA and Pepsi. Although Juncker has denied doing anything wrong, critics have raised questions about the appropriateness of his holding arguably the most powerful office in the EU. The no confidence motion referenced the so-called Luxleaks scandal.
“It is intolerable that a person who has been responsible for aggressive tax avoidance policies should serve as President of the European Commission,” the motion signatories said.
Reaction to the outcome of the vote and, in particular the failure of Farage to turnout, was swift with UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder saying, “We all know UKIP MEPs are notorious for doing very little work, but this time Nigel Farage has failed to turn up and vote on his own motion.
“This shows that this proposal was never anything more than a shameless media stunt.”
“While UKIP clown around, hard-working MEPs are determined to hold Juncker and the Commission to account by holding an in-depth and independent inquiry.”
This was a reference to the European Parliament inquiry that will be set up to look into allegations that Juncker was complicit in tax evasion during his time as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
On Thursday, Juncker tried to move the agenda on by giving details of a €315bn investment plan to kick-start Europe’s economy. At its heart is a new €21bn fund that would provide loans for infrastructure projects. Juncker hopes most of the rest of the money will come from private backers.
Only €16bn of the original money would come from the European Union budget but critics doubt it can attract so much private investment.
There was immediate scepticism from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) whose General Secretary, Bernadette Segol, suggested the Commission was “relying on a financial miracle like the loaves and fishes.”
By Martin Banks