OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Low fiscal pressure

European countries permit tax evasion on a massive scale while asking citizens to take austerity medicine

People in Spain and Europe are beginning to pay attention to fundamental questions. For example, where is all the money that circulated in the boom, and now seems to have vanished? Most of it, clear and simple, is in havens where it pays no taxes. At the European Council meeting on the 22nd of this month, one point on the agenda is a theme and a figure: "Tax evasion in the EU in 2011," and "864 billion euros." This is the gigantic figure being bandied about by the European Commission, and which allows only one conclusion: tax evasion cannot be just a problem of a few crooked countries of the South. They just can't account for that huge quantity.

A report prepared by the expert Richard Murphy for the EU Parliament confirms this. Belgium has a percentage of under-the-counter economy similar to that of Spain: 21.9 percent against 22.5. In 2011 the Belgian Treasury thus lost 33.6 billion euros, and the Spanish, 72.7.

Italy, Greece and some eastern EU countries have clandestine economies which hover around 27 percent. Even France cannot be said to be dealing effectively with the problem, its black market being estimated at 15 percent of GDP. France is, however, a point ahead of Germany, at about 16 percent. The embarrassing EU average is a little over 22 percent.

The strongest economies, France, Germany and the Netherlands, are those with least tax evasion; but even so, Germany, for example, loses to the clandestine economy an amount equivalent to 80 percent of what it spends on healthcare. Traditionally, while governments more or less kept an eye on the number of companies that resorted to tax havens for certain financial operations, nobody seemed to be shocked at the phenomenon. Opinion seemed to accept, rather, a certain volume of tax fraud in exchange for jobs and growth. But in recent years, those same corrupt mechanisms have spread to uncontrolled proportions, precisely when Europe entered into recession and the states needed more money to restructure their debts.

A great part of this huge flow proceeds from the practices of multinational corporations"

One need not be an expert to perceive that so massive a volume of tax evasion is not due to individual citizens who are crooked. It is due to inherently corrupt mechanisms, instruments of fiscal control that are flawed and full of holes, though which undeclared funds slip away. "A great part of this huge flow proceeds from the practices of multinational corporations, consisting of delocalizing an important percentage of their profits toward subsidiaries registered in territories of zero or low fiscal pressure," explains the latest report published by the Alternatives Foundation.

This is why it is important that the EU Council meeting not merely approve the Commission's proposal to improve EU directives against tax evasion, but actively correct them so that they affect not only the current accounts and deposits of individuals who have taken money out of their country to avoid paying taxes on it, but apply also to "all types of legal persons and trusts, all sources of income and all types of financial products."

Only by means of automatic exchange of all this information will it be possible to frustrate these brutal mechanisms of swindling, which have been expanding day by day and stealing the money that ought to go into the treasuries of all the EU countries.

We must keep our eyes open. While we hear speeches about austerity and sacrifice, we also see the prolongation of "exceptional, transitory regimes" — in other words, delays in the obligation to supply fiscal information automatically, without need of it being requested by a judge for a concrete case — like the delays that have been conceded to Austria and Luxembourg.

So little patience for the honest taxpaying citizen, and so much for these corrupt mechanisms.

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