Thursday, November 27, 2014

European Commission on Catalonia: it’s “always beneficial” to “listen to people”

 “There is one thing that I always find beneficial, with or without a referendum, and that is to listen to people; not necessarily because you agree but, without listening, you will never get any wiser yourself”, stated Margrethe Vestager, the new European Commissioner for Competition, when she was asked whether David Cameron’s example of authorizing an independence referendum in Scotland could be valid for Catalonia’s self-determination process. However, Vestager, who used to be Denmark’s Deputy Prime Minister (2011-2014), also added that Catalonia’s self-determination debate should take place “without European interference”. 

Margrethe_Vestager_commissioner The new European
Commissionner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager (by A. Casino)
In an interview with the CNA, the new Commissioner for Competition highlighted that it is “a Spanish-Catalonian issue”. The Danish politician said she has “a deep respect for countries organising themselves in different ways”, highlighting the diversity of “constitutions and different histories” of “the 28 Member States” as a great European value. Vestager explained that in her country they have “a long tradition of referenda”, mentioning the Schleswig citizen vote to define the definitive border with Germany in 1920, which enabled the country to “take care of the German minority in Denmark and the “Danish minority in Germany”. However, this is “the Danish case” and she is “very careful not to prescribe how other people should do things”. Until 3 weeks ago, Vestager was the Minister for the Economy and Home Affairs as well as the ‘number 2’ in the Danish Government, chaired by Helle Thorning-Schmidt.


Despite the petitions made by the Catalan Government and a large number of Catalan representatives asking the European institutions and the international community to convince the Spanish Government to allow a mutually-agreed self-determination referendum in Catalonia, the new European Commissioner stated that is was “not [her] business” and that she had “nothing to say about it”. Moreover, Margrethe Vestager recognised that she was aware of Catalonia’s self-determination claims and the Spanish Government’s stance. In this vein, she emphasised that “listening to people” is “always beneficial”, although she insisted that it is a “Spanish-Catalonian issue”, which should be solved “without European interference”. This “principle” of no interference should be respected even when the situation is “troublesome and has a lot of conflict”. According to her, the European Commission “should not point fingers or give good advice about how to manage” the issue.

“Good things can come out of” the leaks on Luxembourg’s fiscal privileges for multinationals

Besides, the main person in charge of the EU Competition Policy was also asked about the scandal of multinationals using Luxembourg as their European headquarters in order to pay ridiculously low taxes, a case popularly known as LuxLeaks. Vestager recognised that the investigation she will launch is “definitely not easy” but she was hoping that “good things can come out of it”. As a matter of fact, the current President of the European Commission and Vestager’s boss is Jean-Claude Juncker, who was the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg between 1995 and 2013 as well as the country’s Finance Minister between 1989 and 2009.

Vestager explained that the European Commission has 4 “big cases” open regarding the low taxes paid by multinationals: “2 in Luxembourg, 1 in The Netherlands and 1 in Ireland”. The Danish politician stressed that “for the European Commission it is an opportunity to see whether some companies have better tax deals than other companies”. In addition, there is also a longer-term debate associated with this case, which is the creation of a Corporate Tax Policy at European level, she said.

Not focusing on names…

Regarding the current investigation, Vestager said she was “very concerned” about making sure that this issue will not become “a question of personalities”, given that the new President of the Commission is involved in the case. “If we are going to change things and make companies pay a fairer tax, then we have to stick to the taxation issue”, she emphasised. “This is where the change is needed”, “both in terms of Competition” but also in terms of Taxation Policy, which is run by the French Pierre Moscovici.

…but on a common Corporate Tax for all EU countries

In fact, Vestager once again stressed that “the present debate has helped us a lot to pass” a proposal about setting a common Corporate Tax base for the entire EU, so companies can pay the same regardless of which member state they are based in. In order to do this, “an alliance” with citizens and member states will have to be built, in order to prevent some territories from “organising themselves to get a competitive advantage”

ACN

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