Controversy, what controversy? Some people still think the idea of a Robin Hood Tax is worth arguing over, but that doesn’t seem to include Members of the European Parliament. On Wednesday, MEPs voted by a margin of seven to one to approve the enhanced co-operation procedure that would allow eleven or more EU countries to introduce a financial transactions tax (FTT), bringing it “one step closer to reality” according to Socialist leader Hannes Swoboda. There were 533 voting in favour, 91 against and 32 abstentions. Now, all that is required is for the European Council of Ministers to approve the negotiations and they’ll be underway.
And yet the British Government continues to oppose a European FTT, and is still – we understand – trying to get other countries to block the enhanced co-operation procedure. So this week, leaders of 54 British civil society organisations sent the Chancellor of the Exchequer a letter urging him to stand aside and let those 11 or more countries get on with it.
The 54 organisations included the TUC and sixteen affiliated trade unions (from the ten biggest unions in the country to the Nationwide Group Staff Union from the finance sector – full list below). Other organisations backing the call included Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace; Oxfam, Water Aid and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance; the United Reform Church and the Christian Socialist Movement; as well as Action for Southern Africa, War on Want and People and Planet.
Welcoming the European Parliament vote, David Hillman of Stamp out Poverty said
“MEPs have sent a clear message that the banks must pay for the damage they have caused…
“At a time when the country is faced with welfare cuts and increased austerity, it is incomprehensible that George Osborne continues to put the City profits before public good and turns down the opportunity to raise billions in much-needed revenue.”
The eleven countries already committed to introducing a common FTT include the four biggest eurozone economies (France, Germany, Italy and Spain). The Netherlands has said it will join under certain conditions, and a thirteenth country is expected to join the group shortly. That would mean an FTT covering more than 95% of eurozone GDP. France implemented a very small FTT unilaterally this summer, and the Italians and Spanish are likely to do the same before the next financial year begins.
The Robin Hood Tax campaign-organised letter to George Osborne says:
There have been numerous discussions at EU level on the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) over the last year. In October, the European Commission gave 11 EU member states the go-ahead to pursue an Enhanced Cooperation Procedure that would lead to the introduction of an FTT in each of these nations. This would produce extra revenue for countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain to spend domestically and to contribute to the urgent crises of fighting poverty and climate change.
After a debate and vote by the European Parliament commencing on 11 December, the only remaining hurdle to this initiative proceeding is a formal vote in the next few weeks at a Council of European Ministers.
In respect of this, we write as representatives of UK civil society to appeal to the Government not to block the action of 11 sovereign European nations to tax their financial sector in whatever way they see fit.
Though the UK Government might not be inclined to support the FTT, we would ask you to act in a similar manner to the Government of Finland who, whilst deciding recently not to join the Enhanced Cooperation Procedure, has agreed that they will vote in favour of other countries proceeding with it. We strongly urge the UK Government, therefore, to act as the Finnish Government has and support the rights of other countries to introduce the FTT.
We trust that the UK government will not act to stop this initiative and would view any attempt to do so as extremely disappointing.
Unions joining the TUC in backing the letter were, in order of size: Unite, Unison, GMB, USDAW, NUT, PCS, NASUWT, CWU, ATL, UCU, Prospect, Community, CSP, MU, NUJ and NGSU.