Juncker tax defence unlikely to silence critics

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Media captionJean-Claude Juncker says he is "politically responsible for what happened"

The fact Jean-Claude Juncker answered his critics today took many by surprise.

He had dodged reporters for a week and was not due to appear in public today.

But it is a sign that he knows how damaging this issue could be for him and for Europe.

He could no longer ignore the difficult questions raised by the so-called Luxleaks of a week ago: did he preside over tax avoidance facilitated by Luxembourg? How much did he know and authorise? How much did that mean major companies were able to avoid paying taxes elsewhere in Europe where their profits were actually made?

At the same time as Luxembourg's generous tax deals, Mr Juncker was helping to push through the tough austerity programmes some European countries had to swallow - including raising taxes and cutting spending on their own hard-working citizens.

'Nothing illegal'

So how can someone who may have assisted major corporations reduce their tax bills look ordinary Europeans in the eye and claim that he is a credible guardian of their interests and their money?

How can he credibly head the European Commission when it is now investigating some of the deals done when he was running Luxembourg?

His answers are that there is no conflict of interest today, that he is committed to fighting tax evasion, that he was not the architect of what happened in Luxembourg, that nothing illegal was done and that the problem lies just as much with the fact other countries had high taxes.

But this is unlikely to convince his critics or those who see Brussels as full of self-serving bureaucrats who are cosy with each other and with big business while also being divorced from the tough realities faced by ordinary Europeans.

The trouble for Mr Juncker is that the whole issue plays into the general feeling of disillusion and distrust of EU leaders that has led to the rise of sceptical parties and politicians across Europe.

Dispelling that will take more than denials.