It seems that there’s nothing but bad news coming from Europe. Whether we’re talking about fake austerity in the United Kingdom, confiscatory tax schemes in France, or bailouts in Greece, the continent seems to be a case study of failed statism.
But that’s not completely accurate. Every so often I highlight good news, such as Switzerland’s successful spending cap, Sweden’s shift to the right on spending, Germany’s wise decision not to be Keynesian, and Portugal’s admission that “stimulus” doesn’t work.
Admittedly, the good news from Europe is oftentimes merely the failure to do something bad. But I’ll take victories in any form.
And that’s why I’m happy that Austria and Luxembourg are blocking a misguided European Commission plan to undermine financial privacy in order to increase double taxation of income that is saved and invested.
Here are some cheerful passages from a story in the EU Observer.
“Completely unjustifiable … grossly unfair … a mystery” – the European Commission and the Danish EU presidency have given Austria and Luxembourg a tongue-lashing for protecting tax evaders. The harsh words came after the two countries on Tuesday (15 May) blocked the commission from holding talks with Switzerland on a new savings tax law designed to recoup some of the estimated €1 trillion a year lost to EU exchequers in tax fraud and evasion. Tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta in a press conference in Brussels said: “The position that Austria and Luxembourg have taken on this issue is grossly unfair. They are hindering 25 willing member states from improving tax compliance and finding additional sources of income.” …Danish economic affairs minister Margrethe Vestager took his side. “It is a mystery why we shouldn’t move on making people pay the taxes that they should pay,” she noted. She described Austria and Luxembourg’s decision as “unfortunate.” For their part, Luxembourg and Austria have declined to publicly explain why they are against the move. Semeta on Tuesday indicated they object to “automatic transfer” of tax data between EU countries and Switzerland, even though the alternative is trusting Switzerland to decide which data it gives and which it withholds. He added that automatic exchange is becoming the international gold standard in the field, with “the US moving in the same direction.”
The quote from the Danish economic affairs minister is especially nauseating. It’s not the “taxes that they should pay.” It’s the “taxes that greedy politicians demand.”
Good tax policy is predicated on the notion that there should not be a bias against income that is saved and invested. This is because double taxation undermines capital formation and thus reduces long-run growth.
Yet European politicians, like many of their American counterparts, are drawn to class warfare tax policy and can’t resist trying to penalize the “evil rich.”
So let’s tip our proverbial hats to Austria and Luxembourg. This is probably just a short-term victory over the unrelenting forces of statism, but let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
P.S. This European kerfuffle is a fight over tax competition vs. tax harmonization. To understand why financial privacy and fiscal sovereignty are desirable, watch the four-part video series at this post.