14 February 2014

A week ahead of the Franco-German council of ministers, on 19 February, several members of the European Parliament, left-of-centre movements and NGOs urged Paris and Berlin to inject fresh impetus into plans to introduce a financial transaction tax (FTT) in the EU. They vilified France's foot-dragging on the issue.

The leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the EP, Austrian national Hannes Swoboda, opened fire, on 11 Febuary, by co-signing with fellow S&D member Anni Podimata (Greece) a letter calling on the German and French Finance Ministers, Christian Democrat Wolfgang Schäuble and Socialist Pierre Moscovici, to be “serious” and to “act” (reading between the lines: at last) to get the issue moving again.

Eleven countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia and Estonia) have decided to launch enhanced cooperation to introduce the FTT, but the debate has been at a standstill for the past year. The Greek EU Presidency even decided to cancel a policy debate that the 28 finance ministers were scheduled to hold on the subject at the 18 February Ecofin Council, which says a lot about the situation.

The tone used on 12 February by participants in a press conference co-organised by French Socialist MEP Isabelle Thomas was even less diplomatic. She was accompanied by several other French and German members of the EP – Gilles Pargneaux (S&D, France), Liêm Hoang-Ngoc (Greens-EFA, France), Udo Bullmann (S&D, Germany), Sven Giegold (Greens-EFA, Germany), Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE-NGL, France) – and by representatives of various trade unions, associations and NGOs: Bernadette Ségol (European Trade Union Confederation), Dominique Pilhon (Attac France), Peter Wahl (Attac Germany) and Alexandre Naulot (Oxfam France).

All insisted that the FTT is necessary, in particular to “make speculation and casino capitalism less lucrative” (Ségol), and urged France and Germany to take the initiative.

A pipe dream? Some vilified Moscovici, accusing him of wanting to drastically shrink the scope of the financial transaction tax. “If derivatives are excluded, transfer risks will completely unravel the scope of the tax,” summed up Thomas.

“France is giving in to the demands of the financial sector,” said Wahl. He added that this was prompting “discontent” in the new German government. “We are thinking with our feet,” exclaimed Vergiat, who pointed out that French President François Hollande stood as the “champion of the fight against finance” in 2012.

“I hope that the Franco-German council will bring more reason to this discussion,” commented Giegold. “I think that something will come of it,” assured Thomas.

Really? “We are concerned,” acknowledged Pilhon. “But even if we lose one battle, we will win the war!”

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