Last week in Strasbourg, MEPs were called upon - for the sixth time in a little over a year - to vote in favour of making the tax practices of big business available to the public. By making these big multinational companies open up their books, taxpayers, journalists and politicians can see where they make their profits and where they pay their tax.
This 'country-by-country reporting' helps to show whether or not tax is being paid in the country where a company is making profit, or if it is being shifted to tax havens in an attempt to avoid paying any tax at all. Since the Lux Leaks scandal in 2014, and Panama Papers this year, public scrutiny and pressure has increased to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion in Europe and across the world.
This public pressure led to David Cameron claiming that his government has "led the way on tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance" at an anti-corruption conference in London last week. If that is what the Tory Prime Minister really thinks, then someone needs to tell his MEPs.
Before the vote last week, Conservative MEPs had voted against Public Country-by-Country Reporting five times in the space of 13 months. This was highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, where he challenged David Cameron on his MEPs' voting record and called on him to get his party in order and finally vote in favour.
Unsurprisingly, Conservative MEPs voted against the amendments to introduce Public CBC-R in yet another example of Cameron saying one thing to the British public, while his MEPs vote against it in Europe. There is either some very poor communication in the Conservative Party, or an underhanded attempt to mislead voters back in the UK.
All of the amendments calling for full transparency were voted down, with the final report only calling for ‘an aggregated summary’ of the country-by-country reports to be made public instead of each individual report. By lumping all of the reports together, it is impossible to name and shame those companies which are actively avoiding paying the right tax in Europe by shifting them to tax havens.
The threshold for those companies who need to declare their accounts has also been set at a turnover of 750m Euros – well above the 40m called for by Labour MEPs. This means that only one in ten companies will need to be included in these aggregated summaries, limiting tax transparency even further.
David Cameron has an awful lot of explaining to do before he can call himself a leader in tax transparency. The actions of his MEPs over the last year have already damaged moves to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion, and despite the release of the Panama Papers, they are not showing any desire to change their approach.