Group-of-11 gets go ahead for financial transaction tax
By Benjamin Fox
A European tax on financial transactions has moved a step closer to reality after EU finance ministers gave the go-ahead for 11 countries to put it into law.
Ministers at the Ecofin meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (22 January) formally gave consent for the group, marking only the third time the EU's voting procedure has been used to allow a group of countries to press ahead with a special project, joining divorce law and the recently established European patent court.
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A minimum of nine countries is needed to request the so-called enhanced co-operation procedure.
The European Commission initially proposed an EU-level FTT for all 27 member states in 2011, but the idea was withdrawn after a number of countries led by the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands, refused to back it.
However, the 11 FTT countries - Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia - wrote to the commission in autumn 2011, urging the EU executive to re-submit its original proposal to them.
In an impact assessment on the levy, the commission estimated the group-of-11 FTT could raise €57 billion per year which could be deducted from national contributions to the EU budget.
In practice, national ministers are expected to insist that they keep control of all revenues.
The tax is expected to be set at a rate of 0.1 percent of bond sales and 0.01 percent on financial derivatives, many of which are bought and sold through high frequency trading based on algorithms.
Supporters claim that the tax will ensure that financial institutions pay their bit towards the costs of the economic crisis.
Critics say the financial sector will simply increase customer costs to offset the payments they have to make, and pointed to the commission's own assessment the FTT could result in a 1 percent reduction in EU GDP, roughly equivalent to €50 billion.
EU taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta described the step as a "milestone for EU tax policy" on Tuesday, adding that "a block representing around two-thirds of EU GDP will implement this fair tax together, answering the long-time calls of their citizens."
The European Parliament, which adopted its own opinion on the FTT, also supports the proposal.
Greek centre-left MEP Anni Podimata, who drafted parliament's position on the tax, said that it would "discourage the most speculative and risky transactions."
French MEP Jean-Paul Gauzes, who speaks for the centre-right EPP group on the economic affairs committee, added that "it is major importance that the financial sector contributes, as any other economic sector, to the collective effort to grow out of the crisis."
For her part, Green group spokesperson Emilie Turunen called on the FTT to include an "issuance principle," whereby financial institutions located outside of the participating states would also be obliged to pay the FTT if they traded securities originally issued within the EU, arguing that this could make it "a truly European financial transaction tax."
However, the current proposal stipulates that the tax would be paid according to the "residence principle," meaning that it would be levied in the country where the financial institution making the trade is based rather than where the transaction was carried out.