My tax plans are not anti-Ir­ish – EU chief

‘No in­ter­fer­ence with­out con­sent of Gov­ern­ment’

Irish Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Stephen Rae in Stras­bourg

JEAN-CLAUDE Juncker has in­sisted his plans to drive for­ward tax har­mon­i­sa­tion are not “anti-Ir­ish”, in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent.

The president of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said there would be no in­ter­fer­ence with our tax rates with­out the con­sent of the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment.

Ear­lier this week, Mr Juncker had stoked fears for Ire­land’s eco­nomic well-be­ing when he called for a rad­i­cal shake-up of EU rules that would strip in­di­vid­ual coun­tries of the right to block changes to tax law.

How­ever, in his only in­ter­view with Ir­ish me­dia, Mr Juncker ap­peared to mod­ify his stance – ad­mit­ting he had al­ready come un­der at­tack in his home coun­try of Lux­em­bourg.

He in­sisted: “There is not an anti-Ir­ish thing,” as he called for a full de­bate on the is­sue.

In com­ments that will be seen as im­por­tant to Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, he claimed the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was an EU vic­tory that must be pro­tected. That sense of own­er­ship over the peace process sig­nals a more co-op­er­a­tive ap­proach to the ques­tion of the Bor­der.

JEAN-CLAUDE Juncker has in­sisted his plans to drive for­ward tax har­mon­i­sa­tion are not “anti-Ir­ish”, in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent.

The president of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said there would be no in­ter­fer­ence with our tax rates with­out the con­sent of the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment.

In com­ments that will be seen as cru­cially im­por­tant to Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, he claimed the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was an EU vic­tory that must be pro­tected. That sense of EU own­er­ship over the peace process will de­light Ir­ish diplomats and sig­nals a po­ten­tially more co-op­er­a­tive ap­proach to the vexed ques­tion of the Ir­ish Bor­der in Brexit talks.

Ear­lier this week, Mr Juncker had stoked fears for Ire­land’s eco­nomic well-be­ing when he called for a rad­i­cal shake-up of EU rules that would strip in­di­vid­ual coun­tries of the right to block changes to tax law.

The head of Ire­land’s Fis­cal Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil, Sea­mus Cof­fey, said the move to in­tro­duce a Com­mon Con­sol­i­dated Cor­po­rate Tax Base (CCCTB) would be “more se­ri­ous” than Brexit for Ire­land. How­ever, in his only in­ter­view with Ir­ish me­dia, Mr Juncker ap­peared to mod­ify his stance – ad­mit­ting he’s al­ready come un­der at­tack in his home coun­try of Lux­em­bourg over the con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als.

“When it comes to tax­a­tion, be­cause that was your ques­tion, I was propos­ing if the Euro­pean Coun­cil did so, by unan­i­mous de­ci­sion, to change the vot­ing rules in the Euro­pean Union when it comes to tax­a­tion. But if you have una­nim­ity or qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity vot­ing, this is not ... this does not mean that these things could be done with­out de­bate,” he said.

“In a de­bate, the ar­gu­ment of the ‘wants’ and that of the oth­ers have to be lis­tened to care­fully. So there is not an

We have to know that this (Bor­der) is an is­sue we should not deal with in a su­per­fi­cial way be­cause it’s a de­mand­ing is­sue

anti-Ir­ish thing be­cause al­ready ... in Lux­em­bourg pa­pers are writ­ing... say­ing qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity could be tak­ing place. No. I want us to have the de­bate and then the vote, not the op­po­site.”

The pro­pos­als set out in Mr Juncker’s State of the Union speech in Stras­bourg would mean EU tax law could be changed via so-called qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity vot­ing (QMV) among mem­ber states. It is part of a push to im­ple­ment sweep­ing changes to the way cor­po­rate taxes are levied. Cur­rently, all coun­tries must agree be­fore EU tax laws can be changed.

That has been a bone of con­tention, as Ire­land

re­peat­edly out­ma­noeu­vred French and EU moves to at­tack the 12.5pc tax rate. A move to QMV would end the abil­ity to block changes.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the role Ir­ish tax pol­icy played in the re­cov­ery here, Mr Juncker ex­pressed ad­mi­ra­tion for the speed and scale of the eco­nomic turn­around.

“Never in his­tory has this hap­pened,” he said. “I’m re­ally im­pressed by the way the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment, par­lia­ment and the peo­ple were try­ing, un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, to come out of the sit­u­a­tion they were in.”

On the Bor­der, the usu­ally out­spo­ken Euro­crat was no­tice­ably cir­cum­spect, a sign of the sen­si­tiv­ity the is­sue is be­ing treated with in Brus­sels.

“I don’t want to put in dan­ger the Good Fri­day Agree­ment – which was a ma­jor achieve­ment of Euro­pean, and Bri­tish and Ir­ish pol­icy mak­ing dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 1990s. And we have to know that this is an is­sue we should not deal with in a su­per­fi­cial way be­cause it’s a de­mand­ing is­sue.”

Asked if the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment would ever get its act to­gether on the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, he replied: “I’m not in charge of Bri­tain or Lon­don. I never was by the way.” He praised the work of Michel Barnier, the EU com­mis­sioner in charge of Brexit, in re­la­tion to ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Ir­ish Bor­der. “I wouldn’t like us to re-ex­pe­ri­ence what the Repub­lic and the North had to go through in re­cent decades,” he said.

“I have full con­fi­dence in the el­e­gant way Michel Barnier is deal­ing with that ques­tion and he is con­sid­er­ing this ques­tion as be­ing of high im­por­tance.”

Left: Euro­pean Com­mis­sion President Jean-Claude Juncker Be­low in­set: INM Edi­tor-in-chief Stephen Rae meets with MrJuncker in Stras­bourg

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