France, Germany push for ‘Robin Hood’ tax

May 07, 2014 - 5:03:30 am
Activists stage a protest dressed as Robin Hood (left) and wearing masks depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (centre) and French President Francois Hollande outside a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels yesterday.

BRUSSELS: France and Germany led a group of countries yesterday in pushing for a tax on financial trading although the levy is set to fall far short of what was pledged at the height of the financial crisis and may be pared back further.

Promised in 2011 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, as a means of getting banks to pay for a financial crisis that had then bankrupted Greece and Ireland, the tax was contested from the outset. 

Finance ministers from a group of 11 eurozone countries that back the tax made a further pledge yesterday to introduce it by January 2016 at the latest. Crucial questions such as how high the tax should be and how it will be charged remain open.

“I believe we will reach a political agreement on a financial transactions tax, all ministers are ready,” Luis de Guindos, Spain’s economy minister, told reporters ahead of a gathering of EU ministers. “I hope we will reach agreement on the assets to be included, mainly shares and some derivatives,” he said, sharing a view supported in particular by Italy.

“We want the rules agreement this year so it can come into force next year,” he said. “We still need to decide the level of the tax and how it will be levied.” 

Resurrecting an idea first conceived by US economist James Tobin more than 40 years ago is symbolically important in showing that politicians, many of whom have been accused of fumbled their way through the crisis, were tackling the banks blamed for causing it.

As ministers met in Brussels, activists in favour of a ‘Robin Hood tax’ — after the British “outlaw” who was said to rob the rich to give to the poor — acted out a boxing match to symbolise the fight over the levy. 

In one corner, an activist dressed in green and wearing a quiver of arrows pretended to knock out his opponent who was dressed as a banker in a suit.

“This is a fight between bankers and Robin Hood,” said Natalia Alonso, a campaigner at Oxfam. “We are saying that the money raised with this tax should go to fighting poverty.”

Reaffirming a commitment to the tax is also important ahead of European elections that are expected to see a rise in support for populist eurosceptic parties. Many experts, however, expect the scheme to be quietly shelved afterwards because it is difficult to implement. Reuters