By John Browne
Although it was barely noticed by the American press, on January 22nd, EU finance ministers approved a new “Financial Transactions Tax” (FTT) that has implications for market competitiveness around the world.
The move was conceived as a Franco-German initiative and was supported by seven other EU nations, including the entire bloc of highly indebted southern tier nations, to reach the minimum nine nations required to press ahead under the EU’s so-called, ‘enhanced co-operation procedures’. If at least one of the transacting parties involved is an EU resident, the tax will impose a one tenth of one percent tax (on both sides of a financial transaction) on secondary market trades in equities, bonds, securities and REPOS. Derivatives will be taxed at a lower one hundredth percent.
Although limited presently in scope and at an apparently low rate, the tax will nevertheless provide an extra layer of financial bureaucracy that will dissuade some market participants from transacting in the Eurozone. It should be patently obvious that transactional fluidity is supportive of efficient markets and ultimately of economic growth. It is only in the poisonous, anti-capitalist, post-crisis environment that such a measure could be passed. More importantly, the measure is a “supra national” tax that helps to pave the way towards a global taxation system. Not only will such a system be economically damaging, but it will be devoid largely of effective democratic accountability.
In its March 2011 tax meeting in Brussels, the EU had originally proposed a “Financial Activities Tax” (FAT), a more comprehensive, and potentially more destructive, EU-wide measure. The opposition to the tax was so fierce, most notably from Great Britain, that the FTT was proposed as a compromise.
Ignoring the role of the central banks in the financial debacle, the German Finance Minister commented lamely that, “The financial sector must appropriately participate in bearing the cost of the financial crisis.” According to the EU’s Tax Commissioner, Algridas Semeta, the FTT decision was a “major achievement for EU tax policies.” Those who believe, as I do, that the EU’s covert intent is to erode the traditional independence of the world’s financial markets, particularly the dominance of London and New York, certainly share those sentiments.
In an economic impact analysis running to over 1,000 pages, the EU Commission estimated that the FTT would raise $76 billion annually. The commission admitted that this would cause a 10 percent drop in securities transactions, a 70 percent fall in derivatives trading and result in a loss to the EU’s GDP of some 0.53 percent. All this in an EU economy struggling now to prevent a recession falling into a depression! Of course, the Commission failed to consider any resulting lost tax revenues implied by a fall in GDP.
On its face, it was clear that the idea for both the FAT and the FTT was a product of left wing ideology of soaking the so-called rich, but devoid of any real understanding of how free markets operate.
If such a tax were imposed in single country market, in the UK for instance, it would encourage a massive flow of business to other national markets. The EU must feel that its size and status will protect it from such an eventuality. Few suspect that the FTT will offer economic benefits that would outweigh the harm it will impose. But that is not the criteria by which the measure will be judged by EU leadership. What if FTT is designed not as a tax to encourage more responsible investing, but as a covert weapon to win political control of Europe?
FTT is a supra national tax imposed on top, and independent of, national financial taxes. Once the infrastructure to enforce and collect the tax is established, the tax rates can be raised relatively easily. Most importantly, once such supra national taxes are established, they suffer from very little if any democratic supervision.
EU Tax Commissioner, Algirdas Semeta, has said that the Commission has arrived at a means of levying a tax that prevents investors from relocating. The tax will be imposed on both the buyer and the seller of a financial instrument so long as either of the two parties is based within any participating EU country. This means that even investors in London or New York accustomed to paying only their domestic taxes may not escape the new tax completely.
At a time when governments should be encouraging the free flow of capital, this measure moves us exactly in the wrong direction. Combined with the heightened regulatory scrutiny in the United States (President Obama’s appointment last week of the first former federal prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission), the move bolsters the belief that the West will likely cede financial market leadership to the freer and more vibrant markets in the Pacific.
John Browne is Senior Economic Consultant for Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. Mr. Browne is a distinguished former member of Britain’s Parliament who served on the Treasury Select Committee and as a close associate of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In addition to careers in British politics and the military, John has a significant background, spanning some 37 years, in finance and business. After graduating from the Harvard Business School, John joined the New York firm of Morgan Stanley & Co as an investment banker. He has also worked with such firms as Barclays Bank and Citigroup and has served on the boards of numerous banks and international corporations, with a special interest in venture capital.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.