EU again fails to agree on tax evasion law
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union on Tuesday again failed to agree on a key policy to fight tax evasion due to resistance from Luxembourg, a tiny country that has long prospered from its secretive banking culture.
The failure is "disappointing" because the legislation on an EU-wide automatic exchange of data on bank deposits would allow governments to "identify and chase up tax evaders," said EU taxation Commissioner Algirdas Semeta.
Luxembourg, a country of only about half a million people, was able to shelve the legislation for the 28-nation bloc and its 500 million citizens since the decision required unanimous approval at a finance ministers' meeting in Brussels Tuesday.
Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna said he could not yet vote in favor and asked for the matter to be decided by EU leaders at their summit next week.
Luxembourg has insisted for years it would only agree to the new law once banking hubs that aren't EU members, like Switzerland, also sign up. But talks with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and three other nations on signing the agreement have advanced, according to EU officials, leading Luxembourg to cite additional reasons for its opposition.
Luxembourg said Tuesday that it also worries that EU rules might be more stringent than upcoming international standards. It is seeking guarantees that Europe's new rules won't give its competitors outside the EU an unfair advantage.
The only other EU holdout, Austria, agreed in principle last year to accept the new law.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he was confident Luxembourg would accept the changes at the EU summit.
"We've been working on this for such a long time, whether we agree today or in four weeks, that doesn't kill me either," he said.
EU officials say tax fraud and firms' aggressive cross-border tax avoidance schemes cost the bloc's governments an estimated 1 trillion euros ($1.38 trillion) a year, which could provide precious revenues at a time of sluggish growth and high debt across Europe.
Separately, the ministers were trying to break a deadlock in negotiations on how to set up a joint authority that can restructure or shut down failing banks. A deal, they say, would be the final step in their effort to create a banking union that would stabilize the financial system.
Governments of the 28-nation EU are in tense negotiations with the European Parliament over the fine print of setting up the so-called single resolution mechanism, which will have the power to shut down or restructure banks across Europe.
The next talks with parliament are scheduled for Wednesday, so ministers have to agree on a compromise among themselves by then.
"Today we will not leave the room until we get a revised" proposal, said Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
The finance ministers and European lawmakers are at odds over the bank rescue authority's decision-making structure, on the degree of financial solidarity between the participating nations and on whether the fund should be able to borrow money on markets to ensure it can manage in times of crisis.
To avoid significantly delaying the project, an agreement must be reached by the end of the month to ensure the legislation's passage during Parliament's last plenary voting session in mid-April before elections due in May.
The new body will be financed by a bank levy that would raise 55 billion euros ($75 billion) over ten years by 2026. However, before any of its money is used to rescue a bank, the bank's creditors, including holders of large deposits, will be forced to take losses.