It has been a rough two weeks at the new job for the chief of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. He assumed his duties at the start of November, only to be faced with an explosive report by independent journalists alleging that large multinationals had procured sweetheart deals with officials in Luxembourg to avoid paying taxes in other countries. Juncker, of course, served as Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013.The Washington Post is reporting that Juncker is now fighting back, taking responsibility for whatever happened on his watch, while at the same time claiming that the deals were reached with independent tax authorities not under his jurisdiction. In efforts to further demonstrate his seriousness, he has come out aggressively in opposition to tax evasion within the European Union, proposing laws that would make it compulsory for all member states to publish whatever special tax arrangements they have made with corporations. With a prominent publication calling for his head, Juncker is clearly in a pickle.The fate of a career eurocrat and alleged corruption is only the surface story here, however. It stands in for the larger crisis of the EU as an institution, and specifically the widely felt ‘democracy deficit’ which has with each passing year turned more and more regular people against the project as a whole. The WaPo again:
Previously, Europe’s elected heads of state had largely nominated candidates. But despite strong reservations from a number of E.U. leaders — chiefly British Prime Minister David Cameron — Juncker managed to secure the job through a new “spitzenkandidaten” (or lead-candidate) system that came into effect this year.Political groups in the European Parliament, including members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed to support certain candidates depending on the results of the May elections for the European Parliament. As it turned out, the bloc backing Juncker emerged the strongest. But a study by one group, Open Europe, showed that the center-right parties backing Juncker were supported by only 9.7 percent of the European electorate.
Europe has a governance crisis insofar as it cannot seem to come up with a set of policies to get its financial ship righted. But perhaps more seriously, it has a legitimacy crisis. “Back-room deals”, “9.7% support”—this is the sort of stuff that the Marine Le Pens of Europe are exploiting to get ahead. The Juncker fiasco shows that Europe is as far from solving the latter as it is at addressing the former.