Robin Hood Tax: a Mark Twain moment

Robin Hood Tax: a Mark Twain moment
April 10th 2012 / 

Once again, apologists for the finance fatcats have been noisily proclaiming the end of the campaign to secure a Financial Transaction Tax, or Robin Hood Tax. Tory MEP Syed Kamal says that the UK Government campaign against the tax is working, even opponents of finance sector lobbyists have swallowed some of the corporate spin, and Swedish right-winger Olle Schmidt says “Germany has now given up their demands for the tax”.

This will come as news to the German Chancellor and Finance Minister, both of whom have reiterated their support - along with the German Social Democrats. The only opposition to an FTT in Germany comes from the small ultra-liberal Free Democratic Party which, although currently part of the coalition government, are widely expected to be facing electoral annihilation.

In France, it’s the same story – current President Sarkozy is in favour and has gone so far as to introduce a limited FTT in his last budget before the election and his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande is even more positive so whoever wins, France will continue to support the proposal. The centre-right Governments of Italy and Spain are following their colleagues in France and Germany, meaning that four out of the five biggest economies in the EU are still rock solid on an FTT.

A quick scan of the five other supporters of an EU agreement or, failing that, a sub-EU/sub-Eurozone tax suggests that the coalition of 9 countries needed to invoke a mechanism called ‘enhanced co-operation’ where an EU majority cannot be achieved, is still intact. Meanwhile, Hungary has indicated it will go it alone with an FTT regardless of what else happens in Europe, and the newly elected left-wing Slovakian Government is also supportive. And among the most strident opponents of an FTT (chiefly Cyprus, Malta, Sweden and the UK), Sweden has just broken ranks and agreed to consider an enhanced version of the UK’s stamp duty on share transactions (still the biggest FTT in the world, by revenue). Even David Cameron said earlier this year that if other European countries wanted to emulate the UK tax, as France already has, he would support that, although he’s been notably forked-tongued about the FTT ever since the last election.

Further afield, the South African government, which under pressure from union and NGO campaigners finally came off the fence in favour of a global FTT before the November G20, has announced that it will extend its own securities transfer tax to cover own-account traders. Closing a similar exclusion in the UK stamp duty would double the £3bn revenue it produces currently, although slosing the South African loophole would raise less, even comparatively, because own-account trading is less rife.

Robin Hood dead? No. As Mark Twain once famously remarked, “rumours of my death have been exaggerated.”

Owen Tudor is Head of European and International Relations Department at the TUC. 

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