By Desmond Hinton-Beales - 22nd January 2013
Those who want to move ahead, and who appreciate the merits of working more closely on taxation at EU-level, can do so. This is a highly significant and very welcome advance
European commissioner Algirdas Šemeta has described the European council's decision to introduce a financial transaction tax (FTT) as a "major milestone".
The council's decision, adopted on Tuesday, authorises 11 member states to push ahead with implementing an FTT through "enhanced cooperation", and it now falls on the commission to make a proposal defining the substance of the agreement.
The FTT looks to secure a fairer contribution towards tax revenues from the financial industry, while discouraging transactions that do not contribute to the efficiency of financial markets.
The 11 countries signed up to the scheme are Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
Šemeta, the commissioner responsible for EU taxation and customs union, audit and anti-fraud, said the announcement is a "milestone for EU tax policy, as it paves the way for more ambitious member states to progress on a tax file, even when unanimity could not be achieved".
The Lithuanian official said that the member states backing the move could "pave the way for others to do the same" and had answered the "long-time calls of their citizens".
"Those who want to move ahead, and who appreciate the merits of working more closely on taxation at EU-level, can do so. This is a highly significant and very welcome advance."
The news was welcomed by the EPP group's spokesperson in parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee Jean-Paul Gauzès, who said "it is of major importance that the financial sector contributes, as any other economic sector, to the collective effort to grow out of the crisis".
Gauzès said that for the remaining member states who have not opted to join the initiative, the "doors are open and they can join at any moment", adding that he hoped this paved the way for a "European and then global agreement" on an FTT.
Leader of parliament's S&D group Hannes Swoboda said the commission must present MEPs with a proposal quickly so that the FTT "can be implemented before the end of the year".
"It is indeed about time that the financial institutions contribute to the repair of the crisis that they have triggered. It is a matter of social justice while so many citizens are still suffering the consequences of the crisis," stressed the Austrian MEP.
Swoboda's comments were echoed by his group colleague Anni Podimata, who will draft the FTT report for parliament and said the tax, "will discourage the most speculative and risky transactions and bring the financial sector back to its original role, the financing of the real economy".
Greens/EFA group spokesperson for economic affairs Emilie Turunen also called for the commission to "swiftly follow up with a detailed proposal".
The Danish MEP stressed that the commission should be ambitious, and push for the inclusion of "bonds and derivatives" under the FTT and ensure there was "no exemption for pension funds".
Turunen said that, "revenues from the FTT can play an important role as part of a system of own resources for the EU budget, notably for climate and development aid".
"Part of the revenue should be used to finance global public goods, with a view to encouraging developing countries to also push ahead and adopt an FTT," she added.