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4th Apr 2020

European Parliament mulls lobby ban for big companies

  • Companies refusing invites to the European parliament may have their lobbyists banned (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Parliament's special tax committee is seeking to punish multinationals for refusing to send representatives to a hearing in June by revoking lobbyist passes and preventing access to senior European Commission officials.

AB InBev, AmazonEU, Barclays Group, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Google, HSBC Bank, Ikea, McDonalds and The Coca-Cola Company are among a list of multinationals that turned down invitations.

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Other companies like the Walt Disney Company and Facebook did not reply to requests to attend the committee.

The special committee was set up to probe tax evasion in the EU following the exposure in 2014 of a scheme in Luxembourg that allowed over 340 large companies to avoid tax.

The committee invited representatives from several multinationals to a June hearing but was met with a series of refusals.

Now it wants to increase its powers.

Parliament vice-president Sylvie Guillaume, a French centre-left MEP, has suggested the tax committee file a complaint against the firms for not respecting the transparency register’s code-of-conduct rules.

In an internal letter, dated Wednesday (16 July) and seen by this website, she proposed stripping lobbyists' access to senior European commission officials and not allowing them into the European Parliament.

According to the EU’s joint-transparency register, AB InBev has two people working at its Brussels office, AmazonEU (2), Barkley (8), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (6), Google (9), HSBC Holdings PLC (11), IKEA Services B.V. (5), McDonald's Europe (2), and The Coca-Cola Company (8).

AB InBev turned down the invitation because it is being probed by the Belgian government on tax evasion grounds.

Amazon also refused because it too is being investigated.

“As that investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss matters related to the case. As such, we must decline your invitation”, said AmazonEU’s Xavier Garambois.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is also under a tax evasion probe, said “we believe that it would, in the circumstances, not be appropriate for us to participate in the public hearing.”

A response written on the behalf of Google's CEO Eric Schmidt apologised for not being able to find a speaker and then offered to send the company's “position on tax issues” in writing.

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Doug Goare, president of McDonald's Europe, turned down the request because of scheduling problems. He also noted the European commission’s anti-competition regulators are “looking into the possibility to open an inquiry on certain tax-related issues”.

The fast-food giant has been accused by trade unions of avoiding more than €1bn in tax by exploiting a royalties loophole through Luxembourg.

HSBC Holdings PLC told the committee it too couldn’t find a suitable representative and that it would be inappropriate for the bank “to comment on a wide range of tax-related issues which are currently the subject matter of criminal and supervisory enquiries”.

The Coca-Cola Company said its president, James Quincey, is travelling and its Brussels staff is away for the whole week in Atlanta, Georgia. The firm then offered to meet the committee members and its president another time.

For their part, Barclays Group and Ikea said they couldn’t attend due to scheduling problems and previous commitments.

Amazon, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Ikea, and Walt Disney are among those companies that secured secret deals in Luxembourg to cut their global tax bills.

The deals allowed some of the firms to pay an effective tax rate of less than 1 percent on the profits declared in Luxembourg.

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