Anneliese Dodds MEP

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Today marked the next stage of the European Parliament’s fight for tax justice: the first meeting of a new Inquiry Committee which will investigate the ‘Panama Papers’, those 11.5 million documents leaked earlier this year which showed tax avoidance taking place on a staggering scale.  I was pleased to take my seat as a member of that Committee today.

The scale of the work we are about to undertake is hard to comprehend. We are going to be investigating the largest data leak in history - a scandal that showed just how much some multinational companies and private individuals have been able to take advantage of secrecy in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax.

But I am ready for the challenge, and I know my socialist colleagues in the Parliament are too.  Fighting tax avoidance and evasion has been at the heart of our agenda for years now, and our pressure is beginning to bear fruit. Just today, European Finance Ministers adopted a new “Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive” in order to crack down on large companies taking advantage of loopholes so as to reduce their tax liability. The Ministers also discussed the possibility of creating a public list of “beneficial ownership” - who really owns what - when it comes to both companies and trust arrangements.  Finally, they took the first steps towards creating an EU-wide blacklist of tax havens.

These are all measures which I called for in a report I co-authored last year, and I am delighted to see progress being made and the EU leading the way in the global fight for tax justice.  This progress simply would not have happened without a call to action from NGOs and civil society organisations, followed up by pressure from politicians within the European Parliament.

But the fight isn’t over.  The new Panama Papers Committee’s work will begin in earnest in September, when we will get to the bottom of just how those companies and individuals got away with their tax fiddling. We still have a long way to go before we have a proper list of tax havens and are able to impose tough sanctions on those countries and the companies which use them.  Above all, we need to change the way the tax system operates, by introducing something called a  “Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base” to make sure that tax is paid in the country where it is earned, and not shipped off to tax havens for the cheapest deal.

Obviously the result of the referendum, and the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union, will have enormous repercussions for everything out here in Brussels and back at home.  There will need to be a new relationship forged between the UK and the EU.  Such a relationship must not involve a race to the bottom and the unravelling of all the hard-won gains we have made in the fight against tax avoidance and tax evasion. I will not stand by and watch the Tory government turn the UK into an offshore tax haven for the rest of Europe.

That is why out here in Brussels I will play an active part in the new Panama Papers Committee and make sure that we continue the European work on tax which has already started.  And it is why back in the UK I have demanded that the government establish a body that includes NGOs, academics, business and trade unions to discuss the negotiating terms for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.  We need a new deal that works for everyone in Britain, and not just the privileged few who have the ear of Tory grandees.  That means carrying on the fight for tax justice, in Westminster and in Brussels.

 

The Panama Papers scandal exposes why we must continue to work closely with Europe on tax

Today marked the next stage of the European Parliament’s fight for tax justice: the first meeting of a new Inquiry Committee which will investigate the ‘Panama Papers’, those 11.5 million...

After the events of last Thursday, it’s safe to say that many were shocked.  

In such circumstances, it would be easy to enter a period of denial, to clamour for a second referendum or find a loophole to avoid enacting Article 50.  But the British people have made their decision and we must all respect it.

The decision to call this referendum will surely go down as one of the biggest political miscalculations in history: a prime minister calling a referendum assuming that he could only win, with no one—not even those who campaigned for it—entertaining the possibility that the country could vote to leave.

Civil servants who questioned this arrogance and attempted to draw up contingency plans were told not to in case it was leaked, despite such preparations being standard practice in a General Election.

This has led to a government that is woefully ill-prepared to argue Britain’s corner in negotiations.

We cannot leave the planning until we have a new Conservative leader – the British people, the British economy, and the 27 other countries with whom we have to negotiate all need clarity now.

It is therefore urgent that we move swiftly to establish structures necessary to create Britain’s position. We need those structures to make sure that the negotiations are effective, and that they represent the interests of a broad coalition – beyond just one party, one lobby, or one side of the referendum debate.

That is why I was so alarmed when I heard that the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid MP had called together a meeting to discuss the fallout of the referendum result, but had failed to invite any representatives from Trade Unions, civil society or our science and education sectors.

In their place were representative of the Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce and those representing some of the UK’s largest Industries. This is such an overwhelmingly partial response that it can be called laughable.

While Cameron seems intent on deferring every major decision to his as-yet-unnamed successor, it seems Javid and others are seizing the opportunity to stitch up meetings behind closed doors with a highly selective group of people to determine what their highly partial view of the UK’s future should be.

This will inevitably lead to an unfair and unrepresentative relationship with the EU—and not just for those that voted Leave, but for all those that took part in the democratic process.

This is not to say that major business and industry groups should not be included, clearly, they must be. But we must not let our negotiations be dominated by business interests alone.

The shape of the post-EU UK will affect all of us and so we all need a say in what our future will look like.  

We need to establish a cross-party commission that involves not just business organisations, but also trade unions, science industries, religious groups and other civil society.

It should also involve representatives of local government and the devolved administrations, to help counter the severe divisions that have been allowed to widen in the process of this referendum.

This new approach could operate in a similar fashion to the Scottish national convention which was widely respected and sketched out the contours for the Scottish devolution settlement.

This body must also be cross-party and operate openly and transparently, ideally meeting in different parts of the country which voted in different directions on the referendum.

We must do everything we can to make this new convention or forum as inclusive as possible on the grounds of location, age, race, education and party allegiance.

We need to start now. We cannot wait three months for a new prime minister to begin setting the agenda.

We need the forum to be established to work alongside those civil servants who are already tirelessly planning a route for us to take to make sure that the future of our country delivers for everyone.

We can’t let infighting and leadership questions cloud the most important round of negotiations in generations.

 

This blog was originally featured on Left Foot Forward on 08/07/2016

The EU negotiations are about more than big business — we should all be involved

After the events of last Thursday, it’s safe to say that many were shocked.   In such circumstances, it would be easy to enter a period of denial, to clamour...

While football rivalry between England and Slovakia will be fierce this evening, many Slovak football fans watching the game tonight will be crossing their fingers for a resounding REMAIN in the UK on Thursday. The UK and Slovakia share a common interest in deepening the EU’s single market and in stability across Europe, which would be harmed should the UK decide to leave the EU.

British business has invested visibly in Slovakia following the 2004 enlargement. Many Slovaks regularly shop at Tesco’s just like their British counterparts. Last year Jaguar sealed a deal to build its new plant near the city of Nitra in western Slovakia, just as the firm expanded its operations in Wolverhampton. Many UK citizens live and work in Bratislava. If Britain leaves the EU, UK citizens and firms in Slovakia are likely to quickly encounter practical difficulties and additional costs by losing access to common rules of the single European market.

All this pales into insignificance, however, when considering the potential economic shock caused by a Brexit. As with many other aspects of life after Brexit, it is difficult to call how quickly the volatility currently starting to affect the British economy might spread to others, and the short- and long-term impact this might have.

Britain leaving the EU would also cause a headache for the Slovakian government. For the first time, Slovakia is due to hold the Council Presidency this year, from the 1st of July until the end of December- meaning that the Slovakian government will formally be the host for all meetings of EU member state governments during that time.  A Brexit is the one event that could seriously derail all the meticulous plans which have already been put in place by Slovakia for its presidency. While many of the issues the Slovakian Presidency would have to deal with will have been inherited from the previous, Dutch, Presidency, a UK decision to leave the EU would throw up a whole host of new questions and problems.

 The uncertainty caused by a Brexit would also harm progress towards energy security in the EU. This may appear an abstract issue for many Brits, but it could not be more pressing for countries like Slovakia, which literally had its gas supplies cut off in 2009 by Russia- virtually the only nation whose government has welcomed the prospect of Brexit.

If the UK decides to leave the EU, the unpicking of the EU’s links with Britain is going to be difficult, with no blueprint or precedent to go on. This situation would put many plans for Slovakia’s Council Presidency on the back burner. The scenario for the UK would be bleak, too – the remaining EU member states would fear an unravelling of the union were positive and friendly terms of exit to be negotiated.  As a result, we would expect them to play “hard ball”. It is all too easily forgotten that Britain has enjoyed a positive image in Central Europe. The UK championed EU enlargement and helped launch its so-called ‘neighbourhood policy’ to improve relations with nearby countries. During the last decade, Britain made a fundamental contribution to overcoming the divisions created by the Cold War, and ensuring peace and stability across the entire European continent. Enlargement and cooperation with EU neighbours have created investment opportunities as well as increasing security for the UK. Moreover, the UK’s influence in Slovakia and her neighbours has significantly increased because of the common use of both the English language and a pragmatic approach to policymaking in Central Europe which is similar to that common in Britain.

Regardless of its outcome, the UK referendum will affect Slovakia much more than the result of today’s football match against England. Day-to-day EU politics will not necessarily be easy if Bremain succeeds. However, it will be far more predictable and stable than in the case of a Brexit. Both Britain and Slovakia have a chance to win on 23 June, if they choose to stick together within the EU. 

 

Anneliese Dodds, Labour MEP for the South East of England

Vladimír Bilčík, Head of the EU Program at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association and Lecturer at Comenius University

 

Whatever the result, Slovakia and England both win by being in the EU

While football rivalry between England and Slovakia will be fierce this evening, many Slovak football fans watching the game tonight will be crossing their fingers for a resounding REMAIN in...

The fight for tax justice is at the top of the EU’s list of priorities. Almost every month of this year so far my fellow MEPs and I have been called to vote on proposals for new measures in order to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

It may have been long overdue – and it took a lot of pressure from whistleblowers, campaigners, Labour MEPs and others to get there – but there’s no denying now that the civil servants in the European Commission have got the bit between their teeth.

They are determined to take action against those multinational companies who do all they can to avoid paying tax.

And the Commission is absolutely right to do so. Tackling tax dodging is one of the most cut-and-dry examples of a problem we can only fix by working together with our EU partners.

Like climate change, pollution and terrorism, tax dodging is a 21st century challenge that doesn’t respect national borders. In fact, it thrives when countries don’t work together – because in that space lie the loopholes and ambiguities that tax avoiders love to take advantage of.

The EU has proposed bold and ambitious reforms to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance – from stopping national governments cooking up sweetheart deals for particular companies, to drawing up a blacklist of tax havens and sanctioning the companies who use them, to making large multinational companies publish exactly where they make their profits and where they pay their taxes.

The EU is a global leader when it comes to this kind of work. Anyone who cares about tax justice, and who wants to see multinational companies pay their fair share and ease the burden on smaller businesses and public services, should want us to stay in the EU – because that is where the fight is really taking place.

On the face of it, that should include David Cameron. He’s committed to staying in the EU. And he says, time and time again, that he wants to fight against tax evasion and avoidance.

Unfortunately, as we’ve come to expect by now, with this prime minister talk is cheap. While he makes all the right noises back in the UK, his MEPs out here in Brussels vote against the most ambitious proposals again and again.

Just today, Cameron told Jeremy Corbyn in Prime Minister’s Questions that his MEPs ‘do support country-by-country reporting, and they have said that over and over again’.

Which is quite the statement when you consider that Tory MEPs have voted against that specific proposal five times in the last year and a half alone.

In fact, even as Cameron was speaking in the House of Commons, his MEPs out here were refusing to give their backing to yet more anti-tax avoidance measures, abstaining on a European Parliament proposal to make new proposals as bold and ambitious as they can possibly be.

The gall of their party leader, to claim the credit for a progressive stance which his party refuses to take in practice, is staggering.

All of this leads me to two clear conclusions. If you want to tackle international tax avoidance once and for all, then the UK needs to be remain in the EU.

And if you believe that the UK should be leading that fight in Europe, then you need a Labour government back home and not the current hypocritical Tory shambles.

This article first appeared on Left Foot Forward on 8th June 2016

Curbing tax-dodgers is among the EU’s great strengths – why won’t the Tories back it?

The fight for tax justice is at the top of the EU’s list of priorities. Almost every month of this year so far my fellow MEPs and I have been...

As I tucked into my muesli this morning, the discussion on Radio 4's Today programme turned - as it does most days at the moment - to the issue of EU referendum.

Given the magnitude of the decision the British people are being asked to make on 23 June, and the possible impact of that decision, it is only right that the BBC and other media outlets are giving as much prominence to the EU question as possible. We need to have a national discussion about this issue. But it can't just be about noise: the debate needs to be as informed as possible, based on the facts, if we are to expect people to make an informed choice when they come to cast their vote.

This morning, sadly, wasn't a great example of an evidence-based debate. The specific subject was pensions, and the impact that Brexit would have on UK pensioners. Asking the questions was Justin Webb, and setting out the government's case was Pensions Minister Ros Altmann. Given the calibre of both interviewer and interviewee, you would expect a highly-charged, highly-informed debate.

Unfortunately, though, when the discussion turned to proposed EU rules on pensions, it became bogged down in bold assertions and bland statements. Webb insisted that new EU pension rules were a threat to British pensioners, and in response Altmann ummed and ahhed without really saying anything. I'm not sure anyone listening would have come away from that debate feeling more enlightened on the subject.

So here are the facts. Two years ago, the EU proposed a new law revising the way that pensions work across Europe. Their aim was to make cross-border pensions more attractive, so that people who work for companies that operate in more than one country - like BMW for example, who are headquartered in Munich but have factories in cities like Oxford, in my constituency - can keep paying into a single pension pot even if they move from the British office to the German one for a few years. As long as it is done well, this is an admirable aim - hoping to support an increasingly mobile workforce to avoid bureaucratic hassle or the risk of losing out on pension rights.

It was first drafted by civil servants in the European Commission. The law then has to pass through two sets of democratic checks: it must be amended and approved by MEPs like me in the European Parliament, and by representatives of elected national governments in the European Council. Only once a proposal has been approved by both bodies can it become national law.

Before the original proposals were drafted, there were rumours that the Commission might include some elements which would have made British pensions more expensive, although in the end these never materialised. When the proposal was published, it is true to say that there were still aspects that we didn't like. But that's a fact of all law-making, and the whole purpose of the democratic approval process is to ensure that the final product is as good as it can possibly be.

That's why I worked with people ranging from the Confederation of British Industry to the Trade Union Congress to make sure that the amendments I submitted to the directive were all intended to make the final law work as well as possible for British businesses, British workers and British pensioners.

The law is now almost finalised, with representatives from the European Parliament and national governments hammering out the final points. Those elements which were worrying from a UK point of view have been removed, and we amended the rules about protecting pension-holders and making sure they are fully informed about their rights and responsibilities without placing an unnecessary burden on companies.

On this, as on so many other areas where the EU is operating - from combatting tax avoidance, to tackling climate change, to protecting consumers - the system works. A rough draft of a proposal is put forward by technical civil servants, and then democratically-elected representatives fine-tune it until a compromise is reached that works for as many people as possible - just as happens in Westminster all the time.

Unfortunately, you wouldn't have known any of that from the radio this morning. Instead, you'd have got a vague sense that something European and threatening was on the horizon when it comes to pensions, and that the UK's own pensions minister couldn't do much about it. That simply isn't true, and it does a disservice to the millions of people across the country who are trying to make their way through a fog of opinion and assertion in order to grasp the tangible facts they need in order to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. For their sake, we all need to raise our game.

Originally published on The Huffington Post 29/05/2016

From Pensions to Process, We Need to Raise the Level of the Debate

As I tucked into my muesli this morning, the discussion on Radio 4's Today programme turned - as it does most days at the moment - to the issue of...


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