Belgium told to get off the fence, stop blocking FTT

Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling is leading negotiations on the FTT. [European Union]

EU finance ministers have presented a compromise text for the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) and urged Slovakia and Belgium, which is accused of deliberately blocking negotiations, to ratify it. EURACTIV France reports.

For Slovakia and Belgium it is time to get off the fence. The two countries have until May to adopt the FTT or to walk away.

“They must have made a decision by May,” said Austrian Minister of Finance Hans Jörg Schelling, who is presiding over negotiations. “If they do not approve it and decide to leave the group, the project is over,” he warned.

The finance ministers of the ten countries participating in this enhanced cooperation project met on Monday (20 March) in an attempt to drive the issue forward. The compromise on the table – which exempts Belgian pension funds from the tax – was approved by the majority of participants.

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“The question was raised over whether or not pension funds should be subject to the Financial Transaction Tax. This is a point that is still up for debate,” said French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin, who stressed that Belgium was not the only country concerned by this question.

“Three or four delegations” still have to see if they can “accept the compromise in the coming weeks”, Sapin said.

Trojan horse

While a number of countries still have to give the final nod to the FTT, Belgium is the one widely regarded as responsible for the blockage, particularly by NGOs.

“Instead of leaving the negotiations and being honest, Belgium chose to stay in the group and act as the financial sector’s Trojan horse,” said Alexandre Naulot from Oxfam France. “Their aim is to slow down the negotiations. But in May, Belgium will either have to assume responsibility for the project’s failure or accept the compromise,” he added.

As an enhanced cooperation project, the FTT needs the support of at least nine EU countries. If Belgium and Slovakia choose not to ratify, the whole agreement will fail. And if this happens, they will have to shoulder the responsibility for torpedoing a project supported by the vast majority of European citizens.

Ultimatum

These two options should put an end to the saga of the creation of this “Robin Hood” tax, which has been stuck in the long grass since discussions began between 11 EU member states in 2011. Estonia dropped out in 2015.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, the idea of a very light tax with a broad base covering financial transactions, particularly speculation, was very attractive to both governments and citizens.

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“But if we keep talking about it and failing to act, I am afraid we will end up boring public opinion. So I think we have to wrap this subject up,” said Sapin.

However, the FTT will not be brought in before the French presidential election, which begins with a first round of voting on 23 April. “The French government has every reason to conclude this project in May, before the parliamentary elections,” Naulot said.