NEWS FROM THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, APRIL 2015
Tackling tax avoidance and evasion
Tax was a central issue during the March Strasbourg Plenary. As well as debating the European Commission's ‘tax transparency package’ MEPs voted on a non-legislative resolution on tax evasion stressing the leading role required to fight fraud and aggressive tax planning in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Commission’s draft legislation would oblige EU member states to inform each other of their national tax rulings with automatic exchanges among EU member states. It was welcomed as "a first step in the right direction" by MEPs but there were further calls for more effective proposals to be tabled in the coming months. The Resolution severely criticised member states that allow their tax authorities to make secret tax rulings to the detriment of other countries' tax systems.
Taxation Commissioner Pierre Moscovici acknowledged that the differences in national tax rules lead to a fragmentation of the EU single market and announced that he would present an analysis of the tax situation across Europe before the end of 2015, as a basis for further work on tax issues.
Lack of transparency, tax avoidance and evasion as well as advantageous deals for big, multinational firms continue to be outrageously unfair towards citizens and small and medium-sized enterprises which have to foot the bulk of the tax bill to fund public expenditure.
A progressive package that would have drastically improved human rights around the world has been blocked by Conservative and UKIP MEPs.
MEPs were debating plans for a proposed voluntary certification system with the aim of decreasing the trade in gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten that has originated from conflict zones and is used mainly for components of electronic goods on sale in Europe
In the Foreign Affairs committee I have tabled over 100 amendments to strengthen the Commission proposal for a mandatory scheme. A fully mandatory certification system with the aim of decreasing the trade in gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten that has originated from conflict zones is absolutely vital to stop the European Union being complicit in the devastation caused by the trade in conflict minerals. With the US and China already running mandatory reporting schemes, it is shameful that the EU is proposing only a voluntary certification system for components of electronic goods on sale in Europe. We have had voluntary guidelines in place for five years and over 80% of companies have chosen not to publish any information on their supply chain due diligence. Conservatives and liberals now have to explain why they bowed to corporate pressure and supported a weak and unenforceable system. Although we lost the vote Labour MEPs intend to re-table for tougher proposals before the new EU rules are put to the May Plenary.
Credit and debit card fees
Card use can be a large source of income for banks as they levy a small fee for each debit or credit card transaction. In some countries (for example, the UK) the merchants bear all the costs and customers are not charged. For some smaller retailers the transaction fee can absorb almost all of the profit of the sale. In the March Strasbourg plenary Labour MEPs were among a large majority voting in favour of a cap on the interchange fees charged by the banks on card transactions - a move is estimated to save British businesses some £480 million every year. What MEPs voted for was to cap the fee at 0.2% of the overall transaction amount for debit cards and at 0.3% for credit cards. The capping rules will not affect ATM cash withdrawals.
Presently the fees charged can be as much as six times that of the newly capped amount. Saving European retailers these costs could bring an estimated savings of €730 million a year. As retailers in turn usually pass on the fees to the customer, the new ceilings should lead to lower prices for goods and services.
TTIP and ISDS
As the co-ordinator for the Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D) in the European Parliament on trade issues I was delighted that in March the group decided to adopt the position I drafted to oppose the inclusion of the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism in trade deals with both the US (TTIP) and Canada (CETA)
The ISDS clause would allow private companies to sue governments if they felt a decision or law impacted their ability to make profit. It will now be opposed by the Group – the second largest in the European Parliament. The European Commission and Europe's centre-right group in the Parliament will need our support if they want to see TTIP through and we have sent a clear message we can only contemplate support if our conditions are met and one such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP. Labour MEPs have always been opposed to ISDS as we feel it endangers our public services including the NHS and puts profit ahead of the public interest.
Exchanging information to improve road safety across Europe
Cross-border information exchanges will soon allow access to national vehicle registration data in all of the European Union’s 28 member states, allowing offenders who commit traffic offences in an EU country other than their own to be tracked and given penalties in their home country. The new directive covers the safety-related offences of speeding, not using a seatbelt, failing to stop at red lights, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, not wearing a safety helmet, using a restricted lane and using a mobile phone while driving.
Police will be able to find the personal data of drivers through their car registration plate and share the information with the police in the offender's country allowing authorities in each member state to hold drivers accountable and notify them of the offence in the language of the country where they live. Currently some agreements do exist between certain EU Member States, however it is often not possible to deal with the increasingly complex cross-border problems posed by traffic offenders.
According to European Commission figures, non-resident drivers account for approximately 5% of road traffic in the EU but are responsible for 15% of speeding offences and a foreign-registered car is three times more likely to commit traffic offences than a domestically-registered one.