Fifty Shades of Tax Dodging: the EU's role in supporting an unjust global tax system
In the past year, scandal after scandal has exposed companies using loopholes in the tax system to avoid taxation. Now more than ever, it is becoming clear that citizens around the world are paying a high price for the crisis in the global tax system, and the discussion about multinational corporations and their tax tricks remains at the top of the agenda. There is also a growing awareness that the world’s poorest countries are even harder impacted than the richest countries. In effect, the poorest countries are paying the price for a global tax system they did not create.
This report – the third in a series of reports – scrutinises the role of the EU in the global tax crisis, analyses developments and suggests concrete solutions. It is written by civil society organisations (CSOs) in 14 countries across the EU. Experts in each CSO have examined their national governments’ commitments and actions in terms of combating tax dodging and ensuring transparency.
Each country is directly compared with its fellow EU Member States on four critical issues: the fairness of their tax treaties with developing countries; their willingness to put an end to anonymous shell companies and trusts; their support for increasing the transparency of economic activities and tax payments of multinational corporations; and their attitude towards letting the poorest countries have a seat at the table when global tax standards are negotiated. For the first time, this report not only rates the performance of EU Member States, but also turns the spotlight on the European Commission and Parliament too.
This report covers national policies and governments’ positions on existing and upcoming EU level laws, as well as global reform proposals.
• On the question of what multinational corporations pay in taxes and where they do business, EU citizens, parliamentarians and journalists are still left in the dark, as are developing countries. The political promises to introduce ‘transparency’ turned out to mean that tax administrations in developed countries, through cumbersome and highly secretive processes, will exchange information about multinational corporations that the public is not allowed to see. On a more positive note, some light is now being shed on the question of who actually owns the companies operating in our societies, as more and more countries introduce public or partially public registers of beneficial owners. Unfortunately, this positive development is being somewhat challenged by the emergence of new types of mechanisms to conceal ownership, such as new types of trusts.
• Leaked information has become the key source of public information about tax dodging by multinational corporations. But it comes at a high price for the people involved, as whistleblowers and even a journalist who revealed tax dodging by multinational corporations are now being prosecuted and could face years in prison. The stories of these ‘Tax Justice Heroes’ are a harsh illustration of the wider social cost of the secretive and opaque corporate tax system that currently prevails.
• More than 100 developing countries still remain excluded from decision-making processes when global tax standards and rules are being decided. In 2015, developing countries made the fight for global tax democracy their key battle during the Financing for Development conference (FfD) in Addis Ababa. But the EU took a hard line against this demand and played a key role in blocking the proposal for a truly global tax body.
Not one single EU Member State challenged this approach and, as a result, decision-making on global tax standards and rules remains within a closed ‘club of rich countries’.