Article for the Parliament Magazine on LuxLeaks

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The report from Parliament’s tax rulings and other measures similar in nature or effect (TAXE) is a milestone on the bumpy road to an efficient regulatory framework to enable fair tax competition within the social market economy. It is part of efforts to put a stop to opaque, unjust and partly unlawful practices, without undermining member states’ fiscal sovereignty and the internal market’ capital market freedom.
Recent discussions in the committee with the finance Ministers of Spain, Germany, Italy and France, as well as with former Luxembourg Prime Minister – and current European Commission President – Jean-Claude Juncker, show we are making progress in terms of dealing with tax avoidance, a problem that has been cropping up for decades.
The TAXE report marks the first time an EU institution has taken on the issue of tax avoidance in a comprehensive, scientifically sound and purposeful manner. There is no doubt in my mind that a number of member states have, in the past, behaved irregularly as regards their information requirements. I am convinced we need a comprehensive EU regulatory framework for fair tax competition.
The Commission’s proposals on the exchange of information are not yet enough. There needs to be, for example, a consistent regulatory and administrative framework with common standards for tax rulings. First and foremost, we need measures that can be implemented without treaty amendments.
Although in principle, member states’ tax sovereignty should not be meddled with, particularly when it comes to tax rates, they will eventually have to give up these competencies. Aggressive tax planning by some EU countries has increased their national tax base, at the expense of their European partners and with negative consequences for society as a whole. Tax shortfalls lead to tax increases for all other taxpayers, whether they are employees, self-employed, civil servants or companies. Also, SMEs suffer from blatant competitive disadvantages.
I have a number of specific demands, starting with a common corporate tax base, such as what already exists in Switzerland, where the cantons have fiscal sovereignty. This way, tax competition will be about rates, not the tax base. I have only agreed to minimum rates, together with ceilings. Any profits that leave the EU must be proven to have been taxed once, either through withholding or corporate tax. In the automatic exchange of information – which must be set up as soon as possible – the Commission will have to act as a referee. We must also upgrade the code of conduct group.
Regardless of the quality of our committee’s results to date, it needs a further extension of its mandate. Unfortunately, the conservative EPP group has already opposed this idea. The S&D group, meanwhile, has responded favourably. The committee has gained extensive knowledge, but we are still missing a lot of information. We recently received responses from several member states, but three have yet to get back to us. We must demand answers and evaluate them.
European monetary affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici and Luxembourg’s finance Minister – and acting EU Council President – Pierre Gramegna, have pledged to assist us in inspecting the code of conduct group’s minutes. This is an opportunity we must seize. But the responses from Juncker were completely unsatisfactory, and he must be invited again. We should take advantage of the current momentum and do the job right, but we need more time.