EU’s structural problem with tax avoidance and evasion must not be tolerated

The recent ‘Paradise Papers’ leaks was the focus of the morning debate at the European Parliament today, with GUE/NGL rounding on the Commission and member state governments for repeatedly turning a blind eye to tax regimes and facilitators which have deprived EU citizens of billions of euros in tax receipts.

Miguel Urbán MEP kicked off the debate for GUE/NGL and he paid tribute to all those who had sacrificed their lives and careers for tax justice:

“The new leak means that we should be paying tribute to the journalists – like Daphne Caruana Galizia – and whistleblowers. How long can this go on until we have true protection for whistleblowers within the EU?”

He then argued that the latest leaks underline a systematic failure in the EU’s fight against tax evasion and avoidance, and blamed facilitators and intermediaries such as banks for exacerbating the problem:

“What the ‘Paradise Papers’ have revealed is that tax evasion and avoidance are a structural problem within the EU. It is not a one-off and we have to tackle it once and for all.”

“How long are we going to tolerate this for, and not have deterrents and sanctions such as removing professional licenses and banking licenses? Until we do that, we won’t actually tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion,” he argued.

“There are politicians implicated – people who are supposed to be legislating against tax avoidance but are actually in it up to their necks. There are tax havens sitting round the table in the Council!” he said.

Urbán concluded by urging the December plenary to vote in favour of the recommendations put forward by the ‘Panama Papers’ Committee to fight for tax justice. His Irish colleague, Matt Carthy, meanwhile, fully supports the formation of a new investigatory committee looking into the ‘Paradise Papers’ but also called for broader, international action:

“It is time for the UN to convene a global summit in response to this latest leak in order to deal decisively, and at a global level, with financial secrecy.”

“The ‘Paradise Papers’ reveal that the world’s richest corporation, Apple, repeatedly showed its contempt for ordinary taxpayers (in Ireland) by using every trick in the book to avoid paying its fair share of tax,” Carthy said.

“Yet, this is the company that the Irish government is desperately trying to avoid collecting unpaid taxes from.”

“If we are to garner any credibility on these matters then the Irish government needs to stop wasting money on its appeal and act now to collect the taxes the Irish people are owed,” the Irish MEP concluded.

Finally, Portugal’s Miguel Viegas said EU governments and their neoliberal policies have a lot to answer for, given the seriousness of the situation:

“We have so many regrets, so many promises and speeches every time we have a scandal.”

“Yet, what the ‘Paradise Papers’ confirm is how woefully inadequate EU institutions are at fighting against these crimes.”

“I hear many of you criticising member state governments but neglecting to mention that many of these same governments are represented by the parties in this House. So, what are your governments doing about tax havens in Panama and such like?”

Ultimately, he blamed the current plight on EU politicians for being subservient to financial powers around the world:

“How do we explain that tiny economic entities and tax havens like those in the Caribbean can have such a hold on bigger nations like those in the EU? This is a fundamental contradiction!” he said.