EU tax: Barroso urges full automatic exchange of data

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, 21 May  European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso addressed the parliament

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The head of the European Commission has told the European Parliament he wants EU-wide exchange of income data as part of the fight against tax evasion.

Jose Manuel Barroso said he would urge Wednesday's summit of EU leaders to support automatic exchange of people's earnings data between tax authorities.

Tax evasion costs EU states 1tn euros ($1.3tn; £0.85tn) a year, more than was spent on healthcare in 2008.

MEPs are expected to call for a Europe-wide blacklist of tax havens.

Pressure is likely to be put on Switzerland to relax banking secrecy amid anger over revelations about Greek and French politicians holding secret Swiss bank accounts.

The debate comes a day after UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged British overseas territories which operate low-tax regimes to "get their house in order" and sign up to international treaties on tax.

Mr Barroso said he wanted to see the principle of automatic exchange "become the standard at international level as well".

The US Senate is currently scrutinising the low global tax payments of Apple Inc and its subsidiaries in the Republic of Ireland in particular.

The main subsidiary, a holding company that includes Apple's retail stores throughout Europe, has not paid any corporate income tax in the last five years, a Senate memorandum says.

'No brake'

In his speech to the parliament, Mr Barroso asked: "How can we explain to honest households and businesses who are feeling the squeeze yet still paying their fair share of taxes, that there are other parts of society and enterprise who are deliberately avoiding paying up?"

A trillion euros was, he said, "a huge amount of money to simply let through the net".

People walk in front of a branch of Swiss bank UBS in Zurich (5 February 2013) Many commentators think the Swiss tradition of banking secrecy is on its way out

He said he would make a call at Wednesday's summit of EU leaders for the EU to adopt automatic exchange of income information on 1 January 2015.

EU tax authorities, he pointed out, already automatically exchanged information for income such as employment, pensions and insurance but he was proposing to include "all relevant types of income, such as dividends and capital gains".

Luxembourg announced on Tuesday it would automatically share information with the US tax authorities about bank accounts held in the country by US citizens and US residents from January 2015. Previously it only provided the data on request.

Austria, which like Luxembourg has a strong tradition of banking secrecy, announced on Tuesday it would support EU efforts to exchange information on foreign depositors, Chancellor Werner Faymann was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"We won't be the ones who put on the brakes and block things, and not the ones whose concerns put up blockades," he said.

He noted that 1tn euros was "pretty much exactly the EU budget for the next seven years".

Pressure on Swiss

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes says Europe's cash-strapped governments cannot afford to lose a single cent in tax revenue, let alone 1tn euros a year.

At Tuesday's debate, non-EU member Switzerland is expected to come under pressure to put in place new rules.

Our correspondent says even top Swiss bankers now admit time is running out for its trademark banking secrecy.

Last week EU finance ministers agreed to start talks with Switzerland, along with Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, on swapping bank account information.

Attempts to tighten up on tax evasion follow a furore in Greece over the so-called Lagarde list, containing the names of more than 2,000 Greeks including senior politicians with Swiss bank accounts.

More recently, France's Socialist government was hit by a scandal, as former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac was forced to resign over tax fraud allegations. He later admitted that he had hidden about 600,000 euros in a Swiss bank account.

A special French parliamentary commission has begun investigating the government's handling of the affair and is expected to question Mr Cahuzac as well as a number of serving cabinet ministers.

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