* New plan would impose much smaller levy on shares from
* Revised tax could raise only one tenth of original target
* Levy may be rolled out only later on bonds, derivatives
* Banks opposed levy, London taking legal action
By John O'Donnell and Ilona Wissenbach
BRUSSELS, May 30 European countries plan to
scale back a proposed financial transactions tax drastically,
initially imposing a tiny charge on share deals only and taking
much longer than originally intended to achieve a full roll-out.
While yet to be formally proposed, the sweeping revisions
would mark a victory for banks and trading organisations which
have lobbied furiously against a scheme aimed at making them
contribute to the costs of the financial crisis.
But the move also reflects big practical problems in
collecting the revenue and political divisions over the tax,
which has encountered legal challenges from London and caused
concern even among the 11 euro zone countries backing it.
A redesigned levy would raise only about one tenth of what
was once targeted, officials who have worked on the matter told
Reuters, removing the claws from a proposal initially championed
by Germany and France.
"The whole thing will have to be changed quite a lot," said
one of the officials, who has closely followed negotiations over
the levy, agreed last October and drafted by the European
Commission. "It is not going to survive in its current form."
Resurrecting an idea first conceived by U.S. economist James
Tobin more than 40 years ago was symbolically important in
showing that politicians, who fumbled their way through the
crisis, were tackling the banks blamed for causing it.
Officials in Brussels had expected the financial
transactions tax (FTT) to raise up to 35 billion euros ($45
billion) a year. But under the latest model, the standard rate
for trading bonds and shares could drop to just 0.01 percent of
the value of a deal, from 0.1 percent in the original blueprint
drafted by Brussels.
That would cut income to roughly 3.5 billion euros or less,
said one senior EU official. The tax may now also be introduced
more gradually. Rather than levying trades in stocks, bonds and
some derivatives from 2014, it may now apply to shares only next
year and to bonds up to two years later.
Derivatives may be covered after that, or the roll-out could
be halted altogether if problems arise, such as if traders move
their deals en masse elsewhere to avoid the charge.
"You can introduce it on a staggered basis," said the
official. "We start with the lowest rate of tax (0.01 percent)
and increase it bit by bit."
Any final decision is up to the countries that have signed
up and remains months away. Germany, for example, is unlikely to
back any scaling down of the levy in public before elections in
September, because Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition has
committed itself to the voter-friendly tax.
"There is a lot of technical work to be done still on the
proposal," said a spokeswoman for Algirdas Semeta, the European
commissioner in charge of tax policy. "Depending on the speed of
progress from here, it is still feasible that the common FTT
could be implemented in 2014, although January 2014 is looking
Seven months ago, Germany, France and nine other countries -
Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece,
Slovakia and Slovenia - agreed to press ahead with the levy,
having failed to persuade all 27 EU member states to sign up.
Some cash-strapped countries have already begun counting on
the new income, a welcome windfall when shrinking economies and
rising unemployment are sapping tax revenue. But in a world
where billions of euros can be moved at the stroke of a finger,
even the tax's backers are getting cold feet.
One euro zone ambassador involved in discussions among
countries on the proposal said early enthusiasm was waning as
governments became aware of the potential pitfalls. "If one
thing is clear, it's that the financial transactions tax is not
going to fly as far as originally hoped," he said.
Those sentiments are echoed by Daniel Gros, the head of the
Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels think-tank. "As
it is designed right now, it doesn’t make sense," he said,
advocating a more straight-forward sales tax on banks.
Influential participants in the financial markets have also
made their concerns clear over the costs and the destabilising
effects it could have. "I would be astounded if it passes in its
current form," Remco Lenterman, chairman of the FIA European
Principal Traders Association, told Reuters last month.
"I would almost theorise that if they pass and implement it
in its current form, they would have to cancel it after a three-
to six-month period as markets would become so dysfunctional
that you would have to revert back."
As it stands, the tax faces many obstacles, including how it
should be collected and whether it should be imposed according
to where the buyer or seller is based, or where the traded
security is issued.
In the current design, if either the buyer or seller is
based in one of the participating countries, the levy can be
imposed even if the transaction takes place elsewhere, such as
in London. Luxembourg and Britain fear this will hit trading in
their financial centres and could lumber them with the task of
collecting the levy, despite not being involved.
Even within the group of 11 countries, there is discord.
Italy and France have expressed concerns about widening the tax
beyond shares to government debt as both believe it could
discourage investors from buying their bonds.
Furthermore, it remains unclear how the tax could be levied
on the trading of complex derivatives - a market that is valued
in the trillions of euros - or how to prevent an exodus of
activity to regions that do not impose any such tax.
"The risk is that if you have some countries not
participating, you have some shift of business from the
countries in the tax to the countries without the tax," said one
official, familiar with French government thinking. "This step
by step approach can make sense."
(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels and Swaha
Pattanaik in London; editing by David Stamp)
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