U.N. Puts Its Weight Behind European Transaction Tax

Terry Flanagan

The United Nations has become the latest body to declare support for the planned financial transaction tax in Europe, as the two early-adopter countries of the controversial levy in the region make final preparations for its introduction.

With both France and Hungary poised to implement bespoke nation-wide versions of the tax, the United Nations wants to use proceeds from the proposed levy across Europe to fund global development such as climate change. As part of plans to raise $400 billion annually for development needs, it hopes a portion of the proposed European Union financial transaction tax will raise up to $71 billion a year for the United Nations.

“It is time to look for other ways to find resources to finance development needs and address growing global challenges, such as combating climate change,” said Robert Vos, director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations.

Vos argues that development aid from countries across the globe in real terms declined in 2011 and wants to find additional and more predictable financing from new sources.

“We are suggesting various ways to tap resources through international mechanisms, such as co-ordinated taxes on carbon emissions, air traffic, and financial and currency transactions,” said Vos.

This move by the United Nations is likely to put added pressure on politicians in Europe who are still wrangling over implementation of the scheme, which would likely entail a 0.1% tax on all share and bond transactions and a 0.01% levy on derivatives trades.

Proposals on the table at the moment regarding any financial transaction tax in Europe revolve around a breakaway group of between nine and 12 nations—including the main eurozone countries of Germany, France, Italy and Spain—asking the European Commission to draw up plans for a so-called “enhanced co-operation” on the controversial tax. If the procedure succeeds, these countries will be able to go off on their own and implement the tax without the other European Union countries on board.

The U.S. has blocked attempts to introduce a financial transaction tax at G20 level, arguing that taxing the financial sector might be counterproductive. The U.K. and Sweden who, with others, have stymied a Europe-wide levy, are the main protagonists obstructing progress within the EU using similar arguments.

France, meanwhile, is still on course to roll out its version of the tax at the start of next month. The French plan involves a 0.2% tax on equity securities and equity instruments issued by companies with a capitalization of more than €1bn, a tax on high-frequency trading and a tax on naked sovereign credit default swaps. There appears to be confusion in the market, though, as firms are unsure as to who exactly will be affected and how the tax will be collected, despite the tax being due to come into force in less than two weeks’ time.

Hungary, another likely supporter in the EU of a proposed financial transaction tax, voted through measures earlier this week to introduce a tax on financial transactions, including on operations by its central bank, the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB), and the treasury.

Andras Simor, the MNB central bank chief, has called the plans “illegal, dangerous and incomprehensible”. The plans met with little resistance in the Hungarian parliament but the International Monetary Fund and the EU may be unlikely to support such a move, due to the tax charges aimed at the central bank.

Much of the financial services industry is vehemently opposed to any such tax. Last month, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), a trade body, said the levy would not only reduce economic activity but would be a highly inefficient way to raise public funds.

“We have always said that the financial transaction tax is a flawed idea, which is likely to have serious negative repercussions for the European economy,” said Simon Lewis, chief executive of AFME. “We are also concerned that the political discussions on the subject are taking place without sufficiently rigorous economic analysis. Much more debate is needed about the meagre gains expected from this tax and the significant damage it would cause to savers, investors and companies.”

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