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Algirdas Šemeta European Commissioner for taxation, Customs Union, Anti-Fraud, Audit and Statistics "Tackling Tax Fraud and Evasion in Europe" Press Conference /Brussels, 27 June 2012

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/12/496   27/06/2012

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European Commission

Algirdas Šemeta

European Commissioner for taxation, Customs Union, Anti-Fraud, Audit and Statistics

"Tackling Tax Fraud and Evasion in Europe"

Press Conference /Brussels,

27 June 2012

On the eve of the EU Summit, where minds will be focussed on finding the right mix of governance, solidarity and growth to exit this crisis, today's Communication could not be more timely.

It sets out concrete measures to tackle the immense problem of fraud and evasion in the EU, which is estimated at around €1 trillion a year.

In the spirit of fiscal union, these measures would ensure greater tax coordination, to better address a shared challenge.

In the spirit of fiscal consolidation, they can deliver vast revenues if effectively applied.

And in the spirit of growth, they would give Member States more leeway to create job-friendly tax systems and to invest in growth-promoting measures.

Mutual interest

Tax evasion is not a problem that any Member State can tackle alone. Fraud and evasion are pervasive, and they thrive on national mismatches and insular thinking.

Therefore, using our strength as a Union is the best weapon that we have to fight these activities and to reclaim enormous sums of public money for honest EU citizens.

For this, there must be more trust, more solidarity and more coordination at EU level.

By trust I mean opening up and sharing more information. The automatic exchange of information between Member States has already proven to be a success where it is applied. We should explore how it can be extended and also how information can be made more readily usable. An EU tax identification number would be practical in this regard. Member States should also be prepared to go the extra mile in terms of transparency, for example by granting each other access to their national databases when relevant.

By solidarity, I mean ensuring that tax measures introduced at home don't undermine your neighbours. Fair tax competition is one of the pillars of good governance in Europe, and this must be respected. In implementing national tax reforms, Member States should be mindful of the impact on their EU partners, and refrain from measures that unfairly steal revenues.

Meanwhile, coordination entails working more closely together, to foil the tax evaders. Member States should make better use of the administrative cooperation tools in place at EU level. The Commission is also working on the extension of Eurofisc and the development of a quick reaction mechanism for VAT fraud, to facilitate a swifter crack-down on tax evasion schemes.

Greater coordination must also be applied in our relations with non-EU countries, and in dealing with tax havens. The Commission will outline, before the end of the year, how we can use our collective muscle to target those who shield EU tax evaders and encourage good governance internationally.

Governance

This common approach to fighting tax evasion and fraud needs to be backed up with greater governance and stronger instruments.

First and foremost, Member States must put their own houses in order. Poor administration and weak enforcement mechanisms undermine all efforts to combat fraud and evasion. The Commission has recommended that 10 Member States in particular, and the eurozone as a whole, take steps to improve their tax collection capacities. We will closely monitor the follow-up and stand ready to provide technical assistance to any Member State that needs it.

At EU level, the most pressing priority is to agree on the revised Savings Tax Directive, and also on the mandates to negotiate stronger savings agreements with 5 neighbouring countries. Once again, I urge all the Council to move quickly towards consensus on these files. Blocking agreement is akin to blocking much needed revenue for all the other Member States.

Finally, we need to ensure that fraudsters and evaders have no place to hide within the EU. They must not be able to play with the differences between national legal systems in order to avoid prosecution. Therefore, I believe that minimum EU sanctions for fraud and evasion could be useful, to ensure sufficient deterrence against these activities. The Commission intends to explore this idea further.

As a last point, I would like to say a few words on the role of businesses for fair and efficient tax systems. Today's Communication outlines ways in which tax compliance can made easier for businesses in the EU, because I do appreciate the administrative burdens that companies – especially SMEs – often face. Beyond this, however, there is a need to address the "pay as little as you can" attitude of some companies. Paying taxes may not be pleasant, but it is what holds our society together. Why should teachers, nurses and shop-keepers carry a heavier tax burden just because large companies can employ clever tax planners to avoid paying their share? The fight against evasion and fraud is also a way to create a level playing field for honest businesses who will no longer be in unfair competition with evaders.

Today's Communication suggests a taxpayers' charter, as part of the Social Responsibility initiative. And before the end of the year I will propose measures to tackle aggressive tax planning in the EU.

To conclude, there is no doubt that the political will to enhance the fight against tax evasion is there. We have heard it from EU leaders at the March Council, and we have heard it from the Parliament. Now it is time to translate that will into action. I therefore look forward to strong support from all sides in pushing ahead with the measures I have outlined today.


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