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Getting the best out of a financial transaction tax

A Eurozone financial transaction tax would not only curb high-frequency and intermediary traders, but could even boost overall GDP, said financial experts at an Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee hearing on Monday. MEPs also reiterated their support for the idea, although some said that the Commission proposal needs more fine tuning.

Avinash Persaud of Intelligence Capital, Sony Kapoor of Re-Define and Stephany Griffith-Jones of Colombia University all strongly advocated a financial transaction tax which, they argued would indeed hit the right players, such as high frequency traders and intermediary financial players, and not the real economy. 

Indeed the overall impact of this tax could be directly beneficial, leading to a 0.25% increase in GDP and helping to stabilise the economy by curbing the practices most responsible for building up risk. 

However, Richard Raeburn of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers, did worry that the cumulative impact of the tax, paid by all intermediaries in a transaction, would be too high and warned that end users could be hit harder than they should.

A tax for revenue and regulation

Anni Podimata (S&D, EL), who is preparing Parliament's opinion on the Commission proposal, defended the tax as a way to raise "considerable funds in the fairest possible way". 

She also said that it would have a second beneficial effect, by removing incentives to enter into financial transactions that generate no value added besides profit for the traders carrying them out.

Markus Ferber (EPP, DE), nonetheless warned against seeing the tax as the "magic solution to everything".  He said that it needed to target high-frequency and intermediary players more closely, to ensure that the cost is not simply transferred down the line to pension funds which invest the capital they raise in financial products and are therefore involved in financial transactions.

The pitfalls

A key problem with the Commission proposal highlighted by Mr Kapoor and various MEPs was the need to review the point at which the tax would be levied. The tax should be payable to legalise a financial transaction and not merely if one of the actors is resident in a participating Member State. This would widen the tax base, ensuring that the tax remains effective even if only some EU Member States chose to sign up to it initially.

The tax will hurt the economy and financial players will work to avoid it.  What is needed more urgently is a system to address bank failures better, said Syed Kamall (ECR, UK). 

"How could a financial transaction tax hurt the economy when the tax will in fact reduce risk, the very element which brought along the crisis?" asked Jurgen Klute (GUE/NGL, DE). 

Ms Griffith-Jones noted that income tax is also partly avoided, but that this did not make it a bad tax.

Wolf Klinz (ALDE, DE), said the tax should apply EU-wide, as this would send a positive signal to the rest of the world. He also warned against "go-it-alone" strategies of certain EU Member States.

Next steps

Parliament will provide an official opinion to the Commission proposal.  The draft report is to be presented in March with a committee vote tentatively scheduled for April and a plenary one for May. 

Parliament has been calling for a financial transaction tax, with steadily increasing majorities, for the past two years.

In the chair: Pablo Zalba Bidegain 

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