On 5th October, the EIB hosted the international conference “Tax - Compliance – Ethics: International Taxation – Role for International Financial Institutions?”, organised by the Office of the Chief Compliance Officer.
The event was attended by more than 120 people of which some 45 high-level expert speakers, panelists, moderators, and representatives from IFIs, EU institutions, standard-setting organisations, civil society organisations, private sector and academia.
The opening speeches were given by EIB Vice President Alexander Stubb and the Minister of Finance of Luxembourg Pierre Gramegna. Vice President Stubb gave an overview of basic concepts of taxation, pointing out to recent changes in the area of digital economy, virtual currencies and linking them to the taxation subject. Mr. Gramegna thanked the EIB for organising the event and bringing together all relevant stakeholders. He stressed the drive of Luxembourg to adapt to changes brought by tax good governance initiatives and notably OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).
The conference demonstrated that tax remains a high priority item on the international policy agenda and is a global issue calling for global action and responses. Representatives of the OECD, EU, G20 presented the recent and future developments in the regulatory field, e.g. development of an EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions (EU), development of fast-track procedure (Global Forum/OECD), endorsement of the OECD and Global Forum work on tax transparency and OECD list (G20). Speakers commented that there is a need for consistency at the level of international organisations (OECD, EU, FATF, Global Forum) with regard to work done in the area of tax transparency and tax good governance and that EU should not put itself into competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest of the world by adapting a very stringent approach. Participants also agreed that a generally accepted definition of tax haven does not exist.
It was demonstrated that while tax evasion is illegal, tax avoidance/optimisation, which has economic justifications, is legally allowed, and is protected by EU law, as long as is not abusive or purely artificial.
Participants discussed the role of IFIs as far as promoting tax good governance is concerned. IFIs agreed that possible IFIs’ responsibilities in this regard should be seen in the context of the IFIs’ mandate and mission which is primarily focused on bringing prosperity and investment to (developing) countries. Measures applied by IFIs with regard to tax due diligence should be proportionate, fair, balanced and risk-based, at the same time providing appropriate assurance to governing bodies for project approval. In unison, it was emphasised that IFIs do not have law enforcement competencies towards its counterparties and for tax assessment should in particular rely on standard setting organisations.