Apologies for returning to this issue again, but the European Commission has now revealed that the UK was one of only four EU member states to abstain over the agreement to support the introduction of a Robin Hood Tax by eleven countries. After weeks of public protestations that they were ‘intensely relaxed’ about other countries adopting the tax (while secretly putting all their efforts into blocking the move), the UK could count on the support of just three other governments – the Czech Republic, Luxemburg and Malta.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has welcomed the ECOFIN decision, and called on the UK to end its isolation on what would be one of the most popular taxes in history, and something that would probably make the EU more popular with British voters. She said:
“Centre-right and centre-left governments across Europe have united to do the right thing. Introducing a Robin Hood Tax to curb gambling and speculation on the money markets while funding sustainable growth and tackling poverty would be one of the most popular things the EU could do, as opinion polls have repeatedly shown. It is a shame that our government is putting its friends in the City ahead of the interests of the British people once again.”
As well as the eleven countries which will now take urgent steps to introduce the tax (which may be in place by January next year, according to EU Tax Commissioner Semeta), twelve other countries agreed to them getting on with it. The group of early adopters includes four of the five largest economies in Europe (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) and covers 90% of the Eurozone GDP. Of the twelve who waved this progress through, there are several who are considering joining in at a later stage (as they are entitled under the procedure to do), including the Netherlands, whose newly elected Government is much more positive about the tax, but worried about the implications for pension funds (we think we can meet their concerns – after all, the TUC wouldn’t want anything to affect pension funds either!)
So what of George Osborne’s allies on the issue? Malta goes to the polls next month, with the opposition Labour Party riding high in the polls. The Czech Republic is a traditionally right-wing opponent of almost anything the rest of the EU does, and often lines up with the UK’s coalition government. And Luxemburg is, if anything, more slavishly supportive of the finance sector’s venal interests than the Conservative Party: at least they have the excuse that bankers make up a bigger proportion of the electorate than they do in the UK!
But he was abandoned by the Irish and the Swedes, who have indicated in the past that they would join his anti-FTT coalition, and by the Poles (whose Finance Minister went to the same London private school as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and was a Conservative Party member in the 1980s), as well as by David Cameron’s new – but slightly uncomfortable – best mates in the Netherlands. Not the UK’s finest hour, for all sorts of reasons!