EU states get blessing for financial trading tax

BRUSSELS Tue Jan 22, 2013 9:45am EST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Eleven euro zone countries won approval on Tuesday for a tax on financial transactions aimed at shifting more responsibility for the region's crisis onto banks despite fears it could drive business out of Europe.

European Union finance ministers gave their approval at a meeting in Brussels, allowing the states - Germany and France plus Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia - to pursue the contested scheme.

The levy, based on an idea proposed by U.S. economist James Tobin more than 40 years ago but little considered since, is symbolically important in showing that politicians, who have fumbled their way through five years of financial crisis, are getting to grips with the banks often blamed for causing it.

"This is a major milestone in tax history," Algirdas Semeta, the European commissioner in charge of tax policy, told reporters, saying the levy could be imposed from January next year if governments agree on its design quickly.

Under EU rules, a minimum of nine countries can cooperate on legislation using a process called enhanced cooperation as long as a majority of the EU's 27 countries give their permission.

Britain, which has its own duty on the trading of shares, registered its protest by abstaining in the vote, along with Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Malta, EU officials said.

Following Tuesday's decision, Semeta said the European Commission would likely put forward a blueprint for the tax in February. Other EU countries could still join the scheme.

Even if Britain and others are out, however, they could still be affected, which is a major concern for London, Europe's biggest financial centre. If either the buyer or seller is based in one of the countries imposing the tax, the levy can be imposed regardless of where the transaction takes place.

Although critics say such a tax cannot work properly unless applied worldwide or at least Europe-wide, some countries are already banking on the extra income from next year, which one EU official said could be as much as 35 billion euros annually.

Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said Italy expects revenues of 1 billion euros a year at the national level, while French finance ministry official Benoit Hamon said Paris was among those keen to have the levy in place quickly and hoped other countries would eventually join up.

The Netherlands has expressed an interest in joining the 11, German and French officials said, and non-euro zone countries have also registered interest in signing up.


Germany and France decided to push ahead with a smaller group after efforts to impose a tax across the whole EU and later among just the 17 euro zone states failed.

Sweden, which experimented with and then abandoned its own transactions tax, has repeatedly cautioned that the levy would push trading elsewhere and found some support for its reservations from Denmark, Portugal, Hungary and Romania on Tuesday, although they did not block the process.

Germany has argued that banks, hedge funds and high-frequency traders should pay for a financial crisis that began in mid-2007 and spread across the world, forcing euro zone countries to bail out peers such as Portugal and Greece.

"The financial sector should share the burden of costs of the financial crisis in an appropriate way," said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who was attending a celebration in Berlin marking half a century of post-war partnership between France and Germany. "We have come a good way closer to this goal.

But critics say the levy could open another rift in Europe, where the 17 states using the euro are deepening ties in order to underpin the currency, and there is the growing risk that Britain could even leave the European Union.

Powerful lobby group AFME, which represents some of the world's largest banks, says the tax will undermine economic growth and the jobs market at a time when Europe is struggling with record unemployment.

Nicolas Veron, a financial market expert at Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel, also believes the scheme, which is likely to see stock and bond trades taxed at a rate of 0.1 percent and derivatives trades at 0.01 percent, is misguided.

"Using a tax on financial transactions to tackle the ills of finance such as high-frequency trading could turn out to the equivalent to a 17th-century course of leeches."

(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas, Annika Breidthardt and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Catherine Evans)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (4)
jrj906202 wrote:
This is something Democrats would love,for the U.S.I would go along,if they lowered,or eliminated taxes on long term stock gains.

Jan 22, 2013 12:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
dareconomics wrote:
The only way Europe will resolve its debt crisis is by growing its economy; yet, it pursues measures that subtract from economic growth. The latest example of a growth-sapping idea was just passed by France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia in the form of a financial transactions tax of 0.1% on securities and .01% on derivatives.

The purported reasoning behind the tax is to raise money for eurocrisis fighting efforts. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble even says so, but the projected revenue from the tax, €35bn, won’t even bail out little Portugal. The actual revenue it raises after business flees to cheaper jurisdictions won’t begin to pay for the mess in Cyprus.

The problem with this tax is that it is not being applied throughout the eurozone. As such, people will move these transactions to non-taxed jurisdictions. Europe supposedly is attempting to become closer with a banking union and even a fiscal union, but it continues to pursue policies that divide the countries. There is effectively a dual-zone banking system composed of the core countries in the North and periphery countries in the South. This new tax will create two securities markets in Europe.

Sweden actually tried imposing this tax several years ago. It reduced business dramatically as transactions fled to other jurisdictions. The Swedes discontinued it and have been warning the Eurozone about its experiment throughout the politicking, but their words have fallen on deaf ears.

The tax is slated to be levied starting in the beginning of next year. I predict a rise in business before the tax is implemented followed by a mad rush to the freer markets of the U.K. and the other non-signatories.

Jan 22, 2013 12:45pm EST  --  Report as abuse
usagadfly wrote:
First, the possession of derivatives should be outlawed for all Federally insured financial institutions and their parents, siblings and children. Then, a financial trading tax is needed. In most of the USA, food is taxed. Why not stock trades?

Of course banks do not want to pay anything at all into the system. They certainly do not deserve the same consideration as biological human beings. But they consume huge amounts of public resources. Time to pay.

Jan 23, 2013 12:30am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

How to get out of debt

Financial adviser Eric Brotman offers strategies for cutting debt from student loans and elder care -- and how to avoid money woes in the first place.  Video