Who will really pay the “own revenues”?

Spoiler alert: consumers will.

Ever since the recovery package of the European Union was sent on its way through the institutions in Brussels, everyone knew that the joint debt obligations that the EU took up until 2058 need to be paid back somehow. This is particularly true because now that we’ve opened the slippery slope of taking up EU debt, you can rest assured that it won’t be the last time we will do it. The 750 billion Euros are said to be paid by own EU resources, meaning taxes.

On January 1st this year, the EU’s plastic tax has come into effect. The tax charges EU member states for their plastic packaging consumption and demands that a pro-rata amount be sent to Brussels for the EU budget. Also being discussed are a carbon border adjustment (fancy words to describe a CO2 tax), a digital tax, and a financial transaction tax. For many in the EU, this will allow the Union to become more independent from the interests of the European Council, to which the Commission all too often feels, and is, beholden when most of its more integrationist support lies in the European Parliament.

But who will actually pay these taxes? Is it that a digital tax on Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook, will be paid by these big corporations from accross the pond and flow into the pockets of Berlaymont? Hardly so. The EU suggests taxing digital services where their transaction occurs, as opposed to taxing in the company’s country of residence. In the case of Apple, European sales are organised through the company’s HQ in Dublin, Ireland, to benefit from Ireland’s more advantageous tax system. In a similar way, Amazon benefits from rules in Luxembourg. Google and Microsoft sell more digital services, in the case of Google advertising services. Here, the cost of a tax would, much like VAT, put on the end consumers. This comes down to much of the free trade argument: the resident consumers pay protectionist tariffs in the country that imposes the tariff, not by the exporting party.

A carbon tax on imports does exactly that. Some goods coming from countries that do not share the EU’s ambitious climate regulations are competitive in price due to the low production costs in those countries. Attempting to push these goods off the market with a carbon tax means that EU consumers will pay more.

A financial transaction tax is an even more egregious example of misguided fiscal thinking. In the eyes of its advocates, it will hit the big players on the international financial markets, when instead it will be paid by low-level investors, low-level shareholders, consumers playing around with investment services that have popped up, particularly during the pandemic. 

It narrows down to the economic reality that companies do not pay taxes; people do. The building of a company cannot pay taxes; but is being paid because either the company reduces its share dividends of its shareholders, pays its workers less, or increases prices for consumers. All too often, the latter is the preferred solution.

The discussed EU taxes are supposed to create independence for the Union and tax big players to reduce inequities. It is more likely to do the former than the latter.

Originally published here.

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