BRUSSELS, May 22 (Reuters) - EU leaders met in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss efforts to address aggressive tax avoidance by companies and to increase European cooperation in tax matters.
The scale of legal schemes to avoid tax on European operations ensured the issue was a focus of discussions at the summit, which also addressed energy policy.
Following are comments from after the talks:
“There is a momentum not comparable with other moments in the past because we are in an economic crisis, an unprecedented European crisis. That’s the change compared to other situations and other economic situations.
“So the awareness that we have to act because it is fair and because it is producing revenues is much more present today than in the past. You ask what is different? The economic crisis makes the difference.”
“What we are doing now, with the directives on savings incomes and what we are planning to do with the automatic exchange of information... is again unprecedented. We couldn’t speak in those terms on those issues let’s say a month or two months ago.
“So there is a real breakthrough and that’s why I put this issue on the agenda of the European Council to take the full momentum of this new situation. I’m really convinced, even after this European Council, there is a strong political will by the leaders, not only the Europeans but also on a global level to go forward in attacking tax fraud and tax evasion.”
“The world is in the midst of an energy revolution, doubled with the race for resources. Soon Europe could be the only continent to still depend on imported energy.
“Households feel the weight of high prices, industry finds it hard to compete with foreign firms who pay half the price of electricity like in the United States... Our leaders are keenly aware that sustainable and affordable energy is key to keep factories and jobs in Europe.
“They also know that we have no major game-changer on the horizon so we need to keep working on several fronts and ideally with the common approach rather than 27 separate ones.”
“There is so much more to do on renewable energy also in terms of jobs. Countries could also develop safe and sustainable ways to tap all the resources, conventional and unconventional. Yes, this includes shale gas which could become part of the energy mix for some member states, perhaps less for others.
“It is of course up to each country to decide its own energy mix. More generally leaders agreed on the need to better coordinate especially and in advance on major national energy decisions with an impact on other countries.”
“Recently some information came out about aggressive tax planning and some behaviour of some companies that probably being in respect of the legislation is indeed taking advantage of the many loopholes that may exist, also because of different national regimes.
“This is why we need to work also on this extremely complex matter, not only politically but also technically, to avoid these kind of harmful tax measures or aggressive tax planning.”
“We cannot accept that a certain number of companies can put themselves in situations where they escape paying taxes in ways that are legal today. We must coordinate at a European level, harmonise our rules and come up with strategies to stop this.”
“Fighting tax fraud does not go against competitiveness... Those who thought they could take refuge in tax havens must now understand that impunity is finished, opacity is over and there is a serious risk of being identified. Therefore, it is wise to declare (income) in the country where people are supposed to be taxed.”
“Companies can set up wherever they want to in Europe and preferably in France, but there must be harmonised tax rules so that no company bases its decision on optimizing its taxes.”
“We will work towards ensuring companies have to pay more where they are based.”
“There is real momentum building behind this issue to support growth in our economies and to help lift developing economies out of poverty.
“We have a real opportunity to make this summer a turning point when we break down the walls of corporate secrecy.
“Today we have agreed to push for a new international standard on automatic information exchange between tax authorities.
“To help those authorities to fight tax evasion, there’s new standards to give them information on who really owns and who really controls each and every company.
“We have also agreed there should be rapid progress to reform international tax rules so that they reflect today’s globalised economy.
“Let us be clear - the best solution is to establish tough global rules and standards where all multinationals make a full and fair contribution.”
“There is a real chance of seeing the sort of international action that we need to fix this problem. You can’t do it on your own, you have to have that international action and that is why I think today has been a bit of a breakthrough.”
Following are earlier comments, from before the talks:
“I’d like to repeat that Ireland’s corporate tax rate is statute-based, it’s very clear and very transparent and we do not do special deals with any individual companies in regard to that tax rate.”
“We have continued, and will continue, to compete for international business in the context of multinational businesses.”
“I’d also point out that the aggressive tax planning by multinationals in an international environment is one that is of focus of quite some time now. There is an OECD report to be published in July which will focus on a new consensus for the transparency of the international tax regime. Ireland has been at the forefront of this.”
“Ireland is one of the frontrunners and will be, in regard to building a new international consensus here about the transparency and respect of tax regimes as they apply to multinationals internationally.”
“We will agree on crucial steps which the finance ministers have prepared. There will finally be an exchange of tax information in the European Union. There will also be negotiations with third parties on a consistent basis.
“That’s an enormous step ahead but we are not there yet. We need even more exchange of data, but it’s a major issue and I’m happy we’ve agreed.”
“It’s important that if we want to encourage people to fairly pay their taxes, that we act resolutely against tax fraud and evasion. That is what makes today an important day.”
“When there is a deficit to be reabsorbed... better to go and look for those who conceal themselves, than to ask those who do pay taxes to pay more.
“It’s a principle at the same time of fairness, and of good management. Those that don’t pay taxes need to pay.”
“It’s a bad day for tax cheats. We will act jointly and I believe we will manage the exchange of data by the end of the year and take additional measures, for example with third countries.”
“The wording is ‘considering negotiations with third countries’. We want more than just a data exchange, we also want it with countries outside of the European Union. We want the fight against fraud to not stop there, there’s more to it. This step is important and it’s the same with environmental policies, you have to lead by example.”
DANISH PRIME MINISTER HELLE THORNING-SCHMIDT
“...We lose a lot of money due to companies that are avoiding tax and we can do something about it if only all the European countries will do something about it together.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be today that countries yield (on their tax haven status) but there is a big pressure on them and that is because every European land is looking for every pound and penny to get their money to work.
“It seems therefore provocative there is so much tax avoidance. At the same time we have made an agreement with the Americans and all this means there will be massive pressure on the countries that aren’t part of it. It could well be that it doesn’t happen today, but it will come to happen at a later point.”
“We support the fight against tax evasion, on the other side this should not lead to equalisation or harmonisation of direct taxes in terms of tax base and tax levels.”
“These companies ask for a lot of investments in infrastructure, in research and development, they want to have well-educated staff members.
“Well, let’s keep that together.
“Pay your taxes, then we can afford all of these investments, and that is at the core of this problem.”
“We are talking about 1,000 billion euros per year, that’s the national income of Spain, the entire seven-year European budget, so it’s a very important issue to tackle.”
“I believe in low taxes for businesses because we have got to encourage investment, we have got to encourage jobs.”
“We have got to make sure as we set those tax rates that companies pay taxes and that means international collaboration, the sharing of tax information.”
“I am making that the headline of my G8 summit in a month’s time and it is important that we make sure that (in) the European Union as well, that we act together to make sure we do everything on this agenda.
“It is good for our own countries, it is also good for the developing world as well.”
LUXEMBOURG’S PRIME MINISTER JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER
“Luxembourg is ready to automatically exchange information from January 2015, as long as the European Union goes ahead with its negotiations with Switzerland and other countries.”
“I would not exclude it.”