European Union finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday focused on ways to fight tax evasion and fraud.
They were also discussing details of the controversial banking union intended to stabilise the region’s financial system.
The tax evasion moves include an automatic exchange of banking information between countries, which is known as the savings directive.
Cash-strapped France has pushed hard for that. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters that ordinary people and government alike are keen for a crackdown: “Taxation is an important point because today the citizens can’t stand some behaviours of fiscal evasion, because also we [governments] need some money in order to reduce our deficits. It’s a question of ethics, as well as a question of economic interest.”
Unanimous approval from all 27 EU members is required. Austria and Luxembourg, two states well known for banking secrecy, are coming round to supporting it in response to increasing international pressure from the US and their European peers.
Britain is also under pressure as many EU officials complain it is not doing enough to crack down on tax evasion in its offshore territories – the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos.
Going in to the meeting, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said this is important in the current economically difficult times: “Today is an opportunity for Europe to take the fight to those who want to evade or avoid taxes, and I think there’s a real opportunity for European countries to give their backing to new global standards that Britain has been pushing for at organisations like the G7 and the G8 later this year. And I think there’s also an opportunity today to conclude the talks on the savings directive, which have been stuck in the European system for years and have allowed people to avoid the taxes that are legitimately owed.”