Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - Page 13 News List

Van Rompuy urges tougher EU tax regime

TAX:The message from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will add to the pressure on Austria to conform with EU policies on bank depositors

Reuters, BRUSSELS

Tax dodging causes the EU to lose about 1 trillion euros (US$1.307 trillion) of income each year, the president of the European Council said on Friday as he announced that EU leaders would discuss the issue at a summit next month.

This hemorrhage of tax revenues is equivalent to the entire annual economic output of Spain, and far exceeds the total of about 400 billion euros committed to the bailouts of eurozone member states Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.

“We must seize the increased political momentum to address this critical problem,” Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a statement broadcast on the Internet. “Tax evasion is unfair to citizens who work hard and pay their share of taxes for society to work. It is unfair to companies that pay their taxes, but find it hard to compete because others don’t.”

Van Rompuy’s message, and the addition of the issue to the agenda of the summit in Brussels on May 22, will add to pressure on Austria to conform with the rest of the EU on sharing information about bank depositors.

Austria is the only one of the EU’s 27 member states unwilling to sign up to EU rules on the automatic exchange of depositor data, with the Austrian minister of finance intent on protecting Austria’s long history of banking secrecy.

EU policymakers say having all EU countries signed up to the EU savings directive, the piece of legislation that calls for sharing of depositor data, would help to combat tax evasion.

Luxembourg, which has the biggest banking sector in the EU relative to its GDP, announced this week it was willing to sign up to the directive from January 2015.

The shifting tide has raised alarm in Switzerland, the world’s biggest offshore banking center with US$2 trillion in assets, as well as in Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein Prime Minister Adrian Hasler told Swiss television on Thursday his country was well aware of mounting pressure over the issue.

“The financial center knows that at some point it may go in this direction now that there is a certain momentum in the question,” he said.

EU finance ministers, meeting in Dublin on Friday, discussed the problem, which Germany and the European Commission have said they are determined to tackle so as to close tax avoidance loopholes.

Van Rompuy said about one trillion euros was being lost across the EU each year because of tax evasion and avoidance.

“To give you an idea, one trillion euros is about the same as the entire GDP or total income of Spain, the fifth biggest economy of the European Union,” he said.

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