We have got our hands on the memo from the eleven countries that under "enhanced cooperation" have signed up to the tax - reported in yesterday's press summary - which raises a series of concerns about the Commission's draft. Exclusively, we today publish the full six-page memo here.
The memo, which in painful EU-jargon is known as a "non-paper", was last week discussed amongst civil servants from EU member states, at a meeting behind behind closed doors. So this isn't reflecting any final position on behalf of the eleven (who disagree amongst themselves on a number of issues).
However, this is revealing stuff - it's clear that though several countries are supportive of the FTT in public, they have a whole host of concerns in private. The document is desperately looking for answers on how the Tobin tax would work in practice. This is, of course, in addition to the more fundamental objections to the FTT raised by the UK's ECJ legal challenge, now also supported by Luxembourg, which we have analysed here.
You can read the whole thing here, but the key points that struck us are outlined below:
- There are calls to clarify how collection of revenues would work in practice.
- The countries complain that the European Commission’s impact assessment “is not fully clear on how the taxation on government bonds would interact with the cost of national debt” and whether an increase in the cost “could be counterbalanced by the revenues of the FTT.”
- In addition, there are concerns about the impact on repurchase operations on sovereign bonds. "The tax will induce an additional cost that is not sustainable for the market participants,” according to the document. “Repo operations are very useful for managing the treasury liquidity, and the disappearance of this market combined with the lack of viable alternatives will induce serious problems about risk management.” Ever so worried about skyrocketing government borrowing costs, Italy seems particularly worried about this.
- Given the way ‘territoriality’ works under the Commission proposal in particular, each member state would not be allowed “to collect the whole EU FTT paid on the bonds issued by the same member state. As a result, the increase of cost of government debt…would not necessarily be compensated by the collection of the tax on the same instruments.” This sort of links to UK concerns that the tax would hit a firm based in one country, but be collected by (and therefore the revenue will be enjoyed by) a government in another. Taxation without representation some would say.
- The rate levied is also an issue: “The 0.1% uniform tax rate proposed by the Commission might create an inappropriate burden on short-term bonds…compared to long-term bonds.”
- And the concerns are not only limited to government bonds. The countries note that, “Businesses have expressed worries that the same effect described above for government bonds would replicate on the corporate issuers, with negative effects on the financing capability of companies.” As we've argued repeatedly, this is the risk that the tax will hit business at a time when these are already struggling to balance their books (and are facing particularly high borrowing costs in the south).
- Uncertainty over the impact of the FTT on high-frequency trading.
- The member states also ask the Commission to clarify a number of definitions in its proposal (e.g. ‘purchase and sale of a financial instrument’, ‘cancellation or rectification of a financial transaction’, and so forth).
In other words, even among its supposed champions, the potential impact and practicality of the FTT are shrouded in uncertainty and a lot of concerns, particularly when it comes to effects on the real economy at a time when the eurozone is desperate looking for growth.