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SPEECH/12/277

Algirdas Šemeta

EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud

Call for concrete ways to combat tax fraud and tax evasion

EP Plenary session

Strasbourg, 18 April 2012

Opening speech

Chair, Honourable Members,

In these difficult times we must ensure that taxes are efficiently and fairly collected. We cannot ask citizens to accept the burden of increased taxes and cuts in public services if we do not do our utmost to clamp down on activities and practices that robs Member States of legitimate income.

I am particularly pleased that the European Council has called for an improvement in this field.

As stated in the AGS last December, the Commission has already been working on a strategy to enhance the fight against tax fraud and evasion. The request of the heads of state and government and your debate today will give further momentum to this work. In this context, I look forward today to hearing your views and concerns.

In order to better frame a European-wide strategy, I believe, that we need to take a three pronged approach.

Firstly, Member States need to make the best use of the tools available at EU level. For example Eurofisc can provide a real return on investment to fight VAT fraud through quick exchange of targeted information and opportunity for joint risk analysis. The Commission will continue to support Eurofisc and the practical activities under the Fiscalis spending programme. In direct taxation, Member States have to use fully the mutual assistance directive provisions and the mechanisms of the savings directive.

This brings me to my second point: progress in the Council on pending proposals that impact on the fight against tax fraud and evasion is too slow. Finance Ministers have to find a way out of the 'impasse' that we have been in for too long on the revision of the savings directive.

The more so that there have been important international developments over the last three years. Exchange of information has become a global standard undermining bank secrecy. It is now time for the European Union to take its own mechanisms a step forward.

The first step has to be for the Council to mandate the Commission to negotiate with our partners in neighbouring jurisdiction and particularly Switzerland.

Thirdly we need to look forward by developing new ideas. What can be done? For example, develop joined-up approach to controls and investigations not only across borders between tax administrations but also between different agencies such as customs and tax. New ideas should also be developed such as the quick reaction mechanisms for allowing Member States to take rapid action against new types of carousel VAT fraud.

As already announced in the Commission's work programme for 2012, I also intend to go further in fighting against tax havens and aggressive tax planning. We need to leverage the economic and political muscle of the Union to ensure that we defend ourselves against non-cooperative jurisdictions and others that do not play fair. In parallel, based on the results of the ongoing double non taxation public consultation, I will be continuing to push for effective means to end situations of aggressive tax planning which undermine fair tax collection.

Honourable Members,

Before concluding let me point out that we are aware that improvements are needed not only on tax legislation.

As Commissioner in charge of anti-fraud, I tabled last June the Commission anti-fraud strategy which tackles large scale smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol at the EU Eastern border. It increases transparency in entities benefiting from EU funds: those which have not fulfilled their tax obligations would be refused any EU subsidies.

My fellow Commissioner Michel Barnier is also very active in promoting transparency in company accounts with recent proposals on country by country reporting and interconnection of companies registers.

In conclusion I believe that we must continue acting strongly against tax fraud and evasion and I look forward to a vibrant and constructive debate with you.

Thank you for your attention.

Closing speech

Honourable Members,

Before concluding let me point out that we are aware that improvements are needed not only on tax legislation.

As Commissioner in charge of anti-fraud, I tabled last June the Commission anti-fraud strategy which tackles large scale smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol at the EU Eastern border. It increases transparency in entities benefiting from EU funds: those which have not fulfilled their tax obligations would be refused any EU subsidies.

My fellow Commissioner Michel Barnier is also very active in promoting transparency in company accounts with recent proposals on country by country reporting and interconnection of companies registers.

In conclusion I believe that we must continue acting strongly against tax fraud and evasion and I look forward to a vibrant and constructive debate with you.

Thank you for your attention.

Chair, Honourable Members,

This has been a most timely and constructive debate. I have listened attentively to the many views expressed and I am encouraged in my determination to push for further action against tax fraud and tax evasion by your clearly articulated concerns.

The heads of state and government have clearly indicated the importance they attach to concrete action in this area. The challenge is to translate this political wish into real action on the ground.

Effective tax systems require many things – such as good design, effective controls and strong administrations. These are elements that Member States need to reflect on over and above the traditional Union concerns about cross-border issues on tax.

I believe that we now have the opportunity in the European Semester process this year to put these issues clearly at the centre of the economic governance agenda and I will be advocating this strongly in the coming months.

I have two important priorities. Firstly I wish to ensure that the Commission's report to the European Council in June provides a sound and realistic basis for further work. It is important to mobilise Finance Ministers to tackle the important issues around tax fraud and evasion.

Secondly I will be developing my ideas over the coming months for the initiative I am planning on tax havens and aggressive tax planning for later on this year.

Today you have provided me with an extensive list of concerns and ideas. I will also be engaging with stakeholders on this issue and building on the current public consultation on cases of double non-taxation. The support of the Parliament is essential if we are to progress, both in providing political leadership and in supporting appropriate Commission legislative initiatives.

To conclude, chair, honourable members, I am pleased to have been able to contribute to today's debate. I have for my part appreciated your insights and I look forward to further opportunities to debate this important issue.

Thank you for your attention.


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