Ten years after the introduction of the single currency, are Europeans ready to pay a tax directly to Brussels? The European Commissioner for Financial Programming and the Budget, Janusz Lewandowski, who has launched a trial balloon to this effect in the German edition of theFinancial Times, believes that now is the right time to take this step towards the establishment of a European federal state. But his proposal has no chance of being implemented.
The bait that Lewandowski is using to encourage EU member states to take a position on the issue will be relatively hard to ignore: in exchange for a tax on financial transactions or passenger flights, they will be able to reduce the cost of their contributions to the administration in Brussels. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands will certainly pleased with the concept. For years they have had to contend with the political tensions that surround their status as net contributors to the EU, and now they also have to cope with the budgetary austerity required by the stability pact. So any measure that reduces the amount they have to pay to the EU would be more than welcome.
However, the disadvantages still outweigh the advantages. Member states’ fiscal authorities will be effectively sidelined by any tax that is paid directly to Brussels: and individual countries will also be concerned about exceeding limits for tax pressure on their citizens, even if these are not well defined. At the same time, a mandate to raise taxes remains the prerogative of national governments and they would like to keep it that way. In the UK, where fear of the European Superstate is inculcated from a very young age, the British are already insisting that "if you give Brussels an inch, it will take a mile." And in recent years, voters in other European countries appear to be adopting a similar position: especially in the Netherlands and France, where the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 marked a radical departure in European politics. Commissioner Lewandowski’s proposals do nothing to address this growing phenomenon of Euroscepticism.
But it should be pointed that the measures he aims to implement are not the product of solipsistic thinking on the part of Brussels bureaucrats, as Eurosceptics would like to believe, but a survival strategy for the Commission which is anticipating that negotiations for the 2014-2021 EU budget will be particularly hard-fought. In view of the financial problems that prevail in many of Europe’s member states, an alternative source of revenue could offer a convenient solution, but in all likelihood it will be shelved in response to the fierce opposition to " more Europe," which exists in EU member states.
View from Germany
Towards a more transparent EU budget
The idea of yet another tax is unlikely to attract much popular support, notes the Süddeutsche Zeitung. However, the daily points out that the establishment of a European tax in Germany, where every member of the population indirectly contributed 260 euros to the annual budget of the EU in 2010, will not result in “an additional burden on the taxpayer.” One positive consequence of such a measure could be the reform of the current system for funding the EU, which is vulnerable to "behind the scenes deals between member states." At the same time it could also result in greater accountability: "If citizens paid directly for the cost of running Europe, they might pay more attention to how their money is being used. In particular they might question the logic of a 21st-century EU budget that is largely devoted to funding for agriculture – a sector that dominated the economy in the 18th century."