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European Commission

Algirdas Šemeta

Commissioner responsible for Taxation and Customs Union, Statistics, Audit and Anti-fraud

Press conference remarks at Council of Finance Ministers

Ecofin Press conference /Brussels, 14 May 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today was a big opportunity.

It was a chance to take decisive action which would propel us forward in the fight against tax evasion.

After all the grand rhetoric of the past few weeks, expectations were high.

Although I cannot honestly say that these expectations were fully met, we did have some success today.

I am extremely pleased that, after 2 years, Member States have agreed on a mandate which will allow the Commission to negotiate stronger savings tax agreements with Switzerland, San Marino, Andorra, Lichtenstein and Monaco.

I must warmly praise the Irish Presidency for that break-through.

With this mandate in hand, I am ready to proceed with these negotiations with full speed and high ambition.

I believe that greater cooperation and transparency in taxation between the EU and these countries can return billions to the rightful treasuries.

Switzerland has been saying for years that it is ready to talk openly and constructively on a new accord. So I am delighted that we will now be able to do so.

Nonetheless, we cannot – we must not – make our progress within the EU dependent on our progress with third countries.

So it was with great disappointed that I watched agreement on the revised EU Savings Directive being blocked on this basis today.

A stronger Savings Directive is crucial for all Member States to better identify and chase up evaders within the EU.

It is too important an instrument to neglect any further.

Thankfully, there is a chance to rectify today's situation, when EU leaders meet next week.

Let's be clear. The EU has always been a global leader in tax good governance. And we want to remain that way.

We can use our strength as a Union to push for higher international standards on transparency and information exchange.

We can seize the current momentum in the G20 and G8 to ensure fair play on tax matters worldwide.

But we can do this with much greater conviction if our own house is fully in order.

So we need full endorsement of the widest possible application of automatic exchange of information within the EU.

I will present a proposal very shortly to extend automatic exchange to dividends, capital gains and royalties.

This proposal, together with the revised Savings Directive, will considerably extend the scope of information shared spontaneously between our Member States.

We also need political commitment to adopt more effective measures against VAT fraud. I believe that the Irish Presidency still intends to reach agreement on such measures before the end of its term.

And finally, we need our leaders to take full ownership of the drive against aggressive tax planning and tax havens.

I expect today's consensus on these issues to be endorsed at next week's Summit, and pushed even further towards real and effective action.

President Van Rompuy's participation at this morning's breakfast was a signal that the European Council is ready to do this, and I would like to thank him for his personal commitment to these important issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the battle against tax evasion, what we achieved today was undoubtedly a step forward

Let's hope that what our leaders agree at the Summit next week is more like a giant leap.

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