Schulz: 1 million EU signatures could spur finance tax
By Honor Mahony
The citizens' initiative - a participative democracy tool coming into effect at the end of this week - could be used to pressure EU politicians into accepting a financial transactions tax (FTT), the European Parliament President has said.
"I don't know if the next citizens' initiative would make the crisis disappear, I hope so. But a citizen's initiative to introduce the financial transactions tax could even increase the pressure on those who are still reluctant," Martin Schulz said at a press conference on Wednesday (28 March).
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His words come just as Germany - until now among the most ardent supporters of such a tax - appeared to concede that it is a no-go in the EU.
"We just can't get it done," German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said Monday. Berlin had been trying to push for an FTT at the EU-level but London, in particular, has been strongly opposed.
The second idea of pushing for the tax only among the 17 eurozone countries is scarcely less problematic. Countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg, with significant financial sectors, do not want to introduce a tax that London - with its huge financial sector - does not have.
Opposition among member state politicians is in stark contrast to opinion polls. Surveys show that the so-called Robin Hood tax is popular among EU citizens. The European Parliament also strongly favours it.
The idea is supposed to be discussed by EU finance ministers at an informal meeting in Copenhagen this weekend. Commenting on the meeting, one EU diplomat spoke of the two "strangely disassociated" debates on the FTT.
On the one hand the European Commission is pushing to introduce the tax so part of the revenues can go to EU coffers. But when ministers discuss the issue, it is on the presumption that all revenues will go to national budgets.
In Germany, meanwhile, it may yet become a big political issue if the opposition Social Democrats push ahead with their pledge to only vote in favour of the Berlin-made fiscal discipline treaty if a financial transactions tax is introduced.
Speaking generally about the European Citizens Initiative - according to which the European Commission must consider legislating in an area on the back of one million signatures from seven member states - the commissioner in charge, Maros Sefcovic, said it will likely lead to initiatives that the commission would like to have suggested itself but for which it had little support.
"Sometimes the best ideas that come from the commission cannot be put into implementation or on the table because they do not always have the necessary political support," said Sefcovic.
"And if you see that a particular proposal is backed by millions of people, there is no way the decision-makers in the commission or in the member states can overlook it. They would need to have a serious debate, which has not always been the case until now."