EU ministers aim for June decision on closing corporate tax loopholes

EU finance ministers will attempt in June to reach an agreement on proposals aimed at clamping down on corporate tax avoidance, after failing to achieve a breakthrough on Wednesday.

"We need an effective deal, not just a deal," said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chaired the ministers' meeting as his country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency.

"Yes, it was my ambition to get that deal today. That didn't come together, but we have made a lot of progress," he added. "We now are close to an agreement and I am confident to be able to reach that in ... June."

The measures, proposed by the European Commission in January, are part of a wider clampdown on multinationals that use loopholes to cut their tax bills.

Corporate tax-dodging deprives EU member states of up to 70 billion euros (78 billion dollars) in revenues annually, according to a study by the European Parliament - more than five times the bloc's funding of Europe's refugee crisis in 2015-16.

The proposed steps include: outlawing some of the most commonly used tax avoidance schemes; sharing tax-related information on multinationals among member states; and compiling a blacklist of non-EU countries that refuse to cooperate in the tax clampdown.

"EU member states were themselves very quick to join the chorus of anger condemning the scourge of tax avoidance and they now need to show that they have the courage of their convictions," commission spokeswoman Vanessa Mock said Tuesday.

The commission has already launched investigations into preferential tax deals offered to multinationals in Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, with the implicated companies including Apple, Starbucks, McDonald's and Fiat.

While tax avoidance through legal loopholes is not punishable per se, the EU's executive believes that so-called tax rulings could offer companies unfair advantages, in breach of the bloc's competition rules.

The issue made headlines on Tuesday, when Belgian media reported that Luxembourg had started verbally offering companies beneficial tax arrangements, raising concerns that the country may be trying to sidestep new EU tax transparency measures.

Luxembourg said on Tuesday that the reports were incorrect.

Dijsselbloem said ahead of Wednesday's talks that such a practice would not be acceptable, as it "blows up the rules."

The ministers on Wednesday also discussed a decision by the commission to postpone a verdict on whether Spain and Portugal should be punished for breaking EU deficit rules.

EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said last week that "this is not the right moment economically or politically" to confront Madrid and Lisbon. The decision was delayed until early July, once elections have taken place in Spain.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble took issue with the move on Wednesday, saying that to suggest a decision was being delayed because of an approaching election "is not a contribution to strengthening the reliability of European rules."

Dijsselbloem acknowledged that "there are some concerns about the credibility of how we use the [deficit rules] to keep all the member states on the agreed path." He said the issue would be discussed again in June.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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