European Union finance ministers have approved a tax on all financial market transactions in 11 eurozone countries – including the two biggest economies, Germany and France.
The idea is opposed in the financial world – particularly in Britain – but has found favour with voters, fed up with their governments having to bail out banks who indulge in risky trading and are then deemed too big to fail.
The tax on sales of shares, bonds and financial derivatives could raise up to 20 billion euros a year, according to some estimates .
Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia are the countries involved.
The levy, based on an idea proposed by US economist James Tobin more than 40 years ago but little considered since, is symbolically important in showing that politicians, who have stumbled through five years of financial crisis, are getting to grips with the banks blamed for causing it.
“This is a major milestone in tax history,” Algirdas Semeta, the European commissioner in charge of tax policy, told reporters after ministers backed the scheme.
Under EU rules, a minimum of nine countries can cooperate on legislation using a process called enhanced cooperation as long as a majority of the EU’s 27 countries give their permission.
Britain, which has its own duty on the trading of shares, abstained in the vote, along with Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Malta, said an EU official attending the meeting.
Following Tuesday’s decision, the European Commission will put forward a new proposal for the tax, which if agreed on by those states involved, would mean the levy could be introduced within months.
Critics say such a tax cannot work properly unless applied world-wide or at least Europe-wide.