EU finance ministers buried a bid to impose an EU-wide financial transactions tax on Friday, but the levy might be still be launched by a group of nations led by France and Germany.
Danish Economy Minister Margrethe Vestager, who chaired the debate, concluded that the proposal to tax financial transactions across the 27-state EU “does not as required have unanimous support.”
Britain and Sweden have vehemently opposed the tax, warning that it would trigger a capital flight and harm economic growth.
However, Vestager said that “a significant number” of countries voiced interest in banding together through “enhanced cooperation.” This is a procedure that allows at least nine governments to harmonise laws. So far this manoeuvre was used for divorce cases and a disputed single EU patent plan.
Clear support was expressed by Austria, Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia, with Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Spain declaring openness.
“We should give it a try,” said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
However, the top lawyer for the council of EU governments warned of a string of political, practical and procedural barriers to overcome.
France’s EU ambassador said the idea should be taken forward “on a limited basis ... as a precursor to something else, more ambitious.”
Italy’s representative said it would be “very important to look at other circumstances,” in what could be a hint that Germany could do more to help bring down borrowing costs for Italy and Spain.
Italy signed the initial letter requesting legislative proposals be drawn up by the Commission, but on Friday linked “credible measures” to combat the debt crisis to giving its agreement for enhanced cooperation.
British finance minister George Osborne repeated his government’s opposition, saying the tax would “shrink GDP,” in Europe.
“Ninety percent of the business would be leaving the EU,” he said.
The City of London is home to three quarters of Europe’s financial services industry.