Everyone should pay taxes: Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel

The recent WebSummit in Lisbon was a chance for Euronews’ Stefan Grobe to meet the prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, who was giving a speech at the event, one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: “Here (at the WebSummit), everyone is talking about the internet, the possibilities and opportunities of the digital industry, but also its negative side effects. I am delighted to be joined by the prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel. Prime Minister, thank you for being with us. It’s rather surprising to see you here at the WebSummit – how important is the digital industry in your country and in what ways are you innovating?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “My country may not be very big, but when it comes to the digital industry, it is in the lead. Whether you look at rankings from Davos or on an international scale, we are are always in the top ten, fifteen or twenty countries on globally. The digital agenda is also a European priority. At the moment, we’re a bit trapped between the United States and Asia, and it’s important to have a common strategy. And Luxembourg has a true digital presence. Five percent of jobs in Luxembourg are in the digital field and that’s just the beginning.”

.ICTSpring: DigiLetzebuerg aims to foster a “digital reflex” or “digital by default” in all policy initiatives the government takes pic.twitter.com/CUjHY11rz0— Xavier Bettel (@Xavier_Bettel) 9 mai 2017

Euronews: “There are still online obstacles that obstruct citizens’ access to goods and services. Tell me what’s being done for the European Union’s single market to adapt to the digital era. There are still regulatory barriers, so where exactly are we?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “There’s a lot of talk, but not much is being done. We’ve been talking about a single digital market for years. I have been a member of the telecom council for four years. There’s a lot of talk, but very few results.

Telecom Council : we need to accelerate the work and obtain concrete results for citizens & businesses in the digital single market #DSMeu pic.twitter.com/IyR20ZRORP— Xavier Bettel (@Xavier_Bettel) 24 octobre 2017

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “There are a lot of initiatives, but few legal procedures. If you have a start-up and you go to the United States, you’re catering to a market of 500 million people regulated by a single set of rules. In Europe, you have 500 million people, but there are 27 or 28 sets of rules – just for one small start-up. That means having to abide by the rules of each country individually in order to establish yourself and be competitive in these different countries. So it’s important to have a common legislation, a common regulator, and I think things are moving forward. But even though the digital world moves fast, I sometimes feel like we are moving at a snail’s pace when it comes to common European legislation.”

Euronews: “Let’s talk about the Paradise Papers revelations that have been in the headlines this week. Were you surprised ? What’s your reaction?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “No, I said it from the start: tax harmonisation is something that is very important for Luxembourg. Not that everyone should be submitted to the same tax rate, but we need to avoid situations where double-non taxation leads to no taxation at all. My country today is not the same country it was a few years ago. Today, my country is no longer on any blacklist, or greylist, with the OECD or anyone else. So Luxembourg believes that what we need to do is to sit together at a table and discuss how to stop firms not paying any taxes at all. When LuxLeaks happened, everybody said, ‘Aaah, Luxembourg!” And then we saw that it was a Europe-wide and a world-wide situation, with rulings and laws… And I insist, there are laws, but we also need to have morals which should allow us to say it’s not ok to not pay any taxes.”

Euronews: “These LuxLeaks revelations were a national trauma… How did people experience this period?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “What happened… there’s the legal side and then, I think, out of respect for the people… simply put, how can I explain to people that someone who earns billions in profits doesn’t pay any taxes, and that someone who runs a small business pays taxes like everyone else? So what we need is regulation that obliges everyone to pay taxes.”

Euronews: “It’s true, Luxembourg changed its tax rules last year to outlaw the abusive tax-saving schemes used by multinational firms in your country. But at the same time, there’s the feeling that Luxembourg is always putting on the brakes in Brussels…”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “We’re not putting on the brakes at all… We need to stop and think for a minute. Is today’s market just a European market or a global market? And, more importantly, when you talk about digital: we’re at the WebSummit here, whether you agree or not, is it in Europe’s interest that companies should pay more taxes in Europe than in the US or in Asia? So, I think it’s important to develop legislation within the OECD where the United States and other non-European countries share common tax rules.”

Euronews: “Tax evasion is a subject that makes people angry in Europe, and leads to dissatisfaction among citizens. I would like to ask you: after Brexit, Trump, the rise of the far-right, populism, Catalonia – why and how have things come to this?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “People have questions, people have problems, they have fears. And we tell them that, one day, we will find solutions… I think people want solutions (now). I think that today, people would like to have a common policy, for example, on immigration. That they would like to see that we are able to manage our borders. I think that after Brexit, people would like to know that Great Britain won’t be better off because it chose to leave the European Union. I think people have questions and we need to give them answers. Europe isn’t just finance, it’s not just an economy, it’s first and foremost values, solidarity. And we need to remember that from time to time.”

Euronews: “Regarding the Brexit negotiations, it’s like a dialogue of the deaf. Recently, you said that the British were being more realistic than half a year ago – what did you mean by that?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “Six months ago, it was ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’, that was the Hard Brexit option…

Euronews: “But you still hear that…”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “Yes, but less often. You hear it less often in Brussels. There’s a convergence between the rhetoric in London and in Brussels compared to six months ago. Today, people are willing to sit around a table and find solutions.”

Euronews: “What’s your relation with Jean-Claude Juncker like?”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “Very good – two Luxembourg citizens at the European Council, it doesn’t happen every day. (Back in the Nineties) It used to be Jacques Santer and Jean-Claude Juncker. But today, he no longer represents Luxembourg but Europe, he’s the father of the European Commission.”

Euronews: “A number of important European figures have come from Luxembourg: Jean-Claude Juncker, Jacques Santer, Gaston Thorn etc. Do you have any European ambitions? You are still young, one of the youngest prime ministers in Europe…”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “That’s kind of you to wish me a European career. I am the prime minister of Luxembourg until next year’s elections and I hope to extend my mandate. I have a mission, I want to modernise my country, I want my country to be among the front-runners in Europe. Today, I see growth, a drop in unemployment, and I want to continue on my mission.”

Euronews: Mr Prime Minister, thank you, it was an excellent conversation. Come back soon.”

Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: “Thank you. See you soon.”
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