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Juncker’s Sound of Silence

BRUSSELS – The new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had barely moved into his new office when his telephone began ringing off the hook. Juncker knew who was calling: journalists around the world were seeking answers regarding the revelations, made by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners, that Luxembourg’s government under Juncker had struck a series of tax-avoidance deals with multinational corporations at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. And Juncker was not picking up.

For a senior politician at the center of a media firestorm, silence is the wrong response. After all, when 86 journalists from major newspapers in 45 countries spend 15 months combing through 2.5 million records concerning 120,000 companies and 130,000 wealthy individuals, they are unlikely to settle for “no comment.” If Juncker does not start a frank conversation soon, he risks eclipsing his five-year term with scandal before it has even begun.

To be sure, Juncker did eventually speak to the press, even acknowledging that he should have spoken out when the so-called “Lux leaks” first emerged. But his brief statement came almost a week after the allegations emerged, and showed a notable lack of concern.

Indeed, though Juncker admitted to being “politically responsible” for the controversial tax rulings, owing to his position as finance minister and prime minister when they were signed, he stressed that Luxembourg had always been in compliance with national legislation and international rules. According to Juncker, the problem is insufficient tax harmonization among European Union member states, which “can lead to results that are not in line with ethical and moral standards.”