Thursday, 2 June 2016

Avoiding taxes: Belgium or EU?

What happens in the European Union, stays in the EU. Quite too often national press ignores what comes from 'Europe', forgetting the measures in 'Brussels' are national news.

A curious case of Belgian press coverage was made by the Socialist party leader Mr Crombez, currently in the opposition. In a TV debate with his Liberal counterpart Ms Rutten, he questioned the liberal-supported government's position in the Council of the EU. Belgian Finance Minister Mr Van Overtveldt helped to delay the start of the so-called anti-tax avoidance directive. The directive aims to curb tax avoidance schemes, mainly used by multinationals. This way, big companies will still be able to continue their schemes a little while longer.
Belgium (right): still some taxes to avoid? © the European Union

While Mr Crombez exaggerated his plea (international press didn't focus on Belgium's leading role), it's a recurring issue. Ministers tend to defend more vigorously unpopular positions in Brussels, knowing the national press wouldn't follow their actions. Either because no one follows EU affairs, or because journalists feel issues are too technical to invest resources in.

On top of the lack of interest (or understanding) of the national press, the case uncovers a larger problem. The Council has, despite a modern website, a transparency issue. It's very difficult to understand which country adopts which position (for example, there's no way to know the Belgian position on the case above). This results in an alienation of EU citizens towards the European Union.

The EU's democratic model rests on many pillars to legitimise its actions: the European Parliament is chosen the citizens, the European Council consists of the EU's elected leaders, the Commission is composed of candidates of elected EU governments and the Council of Ministers of elected governments.

The sooner EU citizens understand their representatives shape EU policies, the better. So in the end, we need more politicians like Mr Crombez to put our governments' positions under scrutiny.