Fight for tax justice goes on despite Left success in final ‘Panama Papers’ vote
A progressive alliance of the political groups at the European Parliament has come together to ensure the final report into the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal will maintain the pressure on EU institutions to properly combat tax evasion and money laundering by member states and multinationals.
In a vote that was marred by delays, technical problems, protests and, at times, confusion as the voting list arrived too late and with significant errors, GUE/NGL largely abstained on the report on findings as well as the report on recommendations of the PANA Inquiry Committee.
The report will still have to be voted by MEPs at the Strasbourg plenary later this year and with further amendments possible, the final text could still change significantly.
Commenting on an eventful voting session, GUE/NGL shadow Miguel Urbán elaborated further:
“Some of our amendments for better fiscal regulation, such as the introduction of withholding taxes on outbound payments to low, or zero tax jurisdictions both within and outside the EU made it into the final report.”
Further, an ongoing request by tax justice and transparency organisations ‘on the identification of all ultimate beneficial owners holding at least one share, and not only those retaining more than 10%’ also made it into the final recommendations.
Urbán argued that a much more progressive report could have been achievable had the rapporteurs considered the possibility of a progressive alliance during the course of the prior negotiations. However, after a number of problematic compromises were agreed upon, Urbán rebuked the EPP and accused them or having no interest in fighting tax evasion:
“The EPP group is opposed to fighting against tax havens within Europe and tried to legitimise tax evasion, a common practice made by big corporations through international fiscal optimisation plans.”
“Moreover, a number of loopholes such as the necessary separation between tax advisors and auditors were not included in the report nor in the recommendations due to EPP objections. This was due in parts to the lobbying by Accountancy Europe which had urged all MEPs to vote against the amendments which had been tabled by GUE/NGL and others,” he added.
Some notable GUE/NGL recommendations adopted include the criticism towards the insufficiency of the Code of Conduct Group of Business Taxation, the persistent blocking by the Council and the Commission of the work of the Inquiry Committee as well as the limitations of the Parliament’s Inquiry Committees. Lastly, GUE/NGL’s recommendation to have a permanent Inquiry Committee was also adopted.
On whistleblower protection, the EPP refused to compromise unless the term, ‘legal rights of the firms’ were put on par with ‘the interest of the public’ - which GUE/NGL voted against.
However, Monday’s brutal assassination of the Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, likely swayed some votes and as a result, a number of GUE/NGL amendments on whistleblowers’ and journalists’ protection were adopted, such as the one calling “...on the Commission to ensure that its proposal affords the same protection to investigative journalists as it does to whistle-blowers...”
Fabio De Masi MEP, outgoing Vice-Chair of the Panama Papers Committee, also commented that although the final report represented a success to the Left and other progressive elements, the fight for tax justice goes on:
“The ongoing tax and money laundering scandals of multinationals, the rich and the powerful demand tough measures. We also owe this to the murdered Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
“A significant success of our group was that we did push through our demand for withholding taxes on financial flows to tax havens. GUE/NGL also managed to fend off a further watering down of existing Parliament positions. Overall then, this represents a success but no reasons to be euphoric about it just yet," concludes De Masi.