Tuesday

16th Apr 2024

Tax commissioner lets rip against Austria and Luxembourg

  • Semeta on Tuesday: 'I leave it to them to explain [it] to citizens across Europe' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"Completely unjustifiable ... grossly unfair ... a mystery" - the European Commission and the Danish EU presidency have given Austria and Luxembourg a tongue-lashing for protecting tax evaders.

The harsh words came after the two countries on Tuesday (15 May) blocked the commission from holding talks with Switzerland on a new savings tax law designed to recoup some of the estimated €1 trillion a year lost to EU exchequers in tax fraud and evasion.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta in a press conference in Brussels said: "The position that Austria and Luxembourg have taken on this issue is grossly unfair. They are hindering 25 willing member states from improving tax compliance and finding additional sources of income."

He added: "They claim that they are protecting their own national interests. This excuse does not stand up ... I leave it to them to explain to citizens across Europe why they can support tax hikes and spending cuts for ordinary people, but won't allow us to step up our fight against tax evaders."

Danish economic affairs minister Margrethe Vestager took his side.

"It is a mystery why we shouldn't move on making people pay the taxes that they should pay," she noted. She described Austria and Luxembourg's decision as "unfortunate."

For their part, Luxembourg and Austria have declined to publicly explain why they are against the move.

Semeta on Tuesday indicated they object to "automatic transfer" of tax data between EU countries and Switzerland, even though the alternative is trusting Switzerland to decide which data it gives and which it withholds.

He added that automatic exchange is becoming the international gold standard in the field, with "the US moving in the same direction."

In a previous interview with EUobserver, he said they are also concerned about the UK and Germany making bilateral deals with Switzerland which would make British and German banks more competitive. But the UK and Germany have changed the bilateral arrangements to fall in with Semeta's law.

In the same interview he noted it might be a deeper problem related to "the long history and traditions of banking secrecy" in Austria and Luxembourg.

He added on Tuesday that the EU cannot use its so-called "enhanced co-operation" mechanism - where a sub-group of nine or more EU countries move forward on a given dossier - because there must be a level playing field on tax in the Union.

EU experts to focus on tax-evading Greeks

Tax evasion remains one of the greatest challenges for experts tasked with helping Greece with administrative reform. Twelve member states are helping out.

Austria attacks UK, as EU finance talks get ugly

Austria has accused the UK of being a haven for money launderers ahead of an EU meeting in Dublin, with Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia's (potential) bailout needs also on the agenda.

Column

What do we actually mean by EU 'competitiveness'?

Enrico Letta and Mario Draghi are coming up with reports on the EU's single market and competitiveness — but although 'competitiveness' has become a buzzword, there's no consensus on a definition for what it actually means.

Latest News

  1. EU leaders mull ways to arrest bloc's economic decline
  2. Police ordered to end far-right 'Nat-Con' Brussels conference
  3. How Hungary's teachers are taking on Viktor Orban
  4. What do we actually mean by EU 'competitiveness'?
  5. New EU envoy Markus Pieper quits before taking up post
  6. EU puts Sudan war and famine-risk back in spotlight
  7. EU to blacklist Israeli settlers, after new sanctions on Hamas
  8. Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us