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EU Makes Progress On Savings Tax Directive

Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

28 November 2000

At a meeting of the EU's Ecofin Council on Monday, Finance Ministers reached partial agreement on details of the savings tax directive which was blocked out at the Feira summit which closed the Portuguese presidency in June. Yesterday's agreement fulfills the pledge made at the Feira meeting to reach agreement on the "substantial content" of a savings tax directive this year.

The context of yesterday's discussions remains that a unanimous vote has to take place by the end of 2002, and that there will then be a seven-year transition period before a full information-sharing regime is installed in all member states (which by then may well include many of the twelve countries involved in the enlargement process). And the deal remains contingent on getting agreement from major non-EU countries and from those offshore jurisdictions that are allied with EU member states to apply equivalent information-sharing rules.

According to yesterday's agreement, all EU countries other than Luxembourg and Austria would begin to share information as from 2003, while the two stand-out countries would apply a withholding tax of 15% until they finally convert to information-exchange by 2009.

Laurent Fabius, the French finance minister, who was in charge of the negotiations, said after the meeting that the directive would go into force regardless of the attitude of other countries, but had to agree that there needed to be a vote. He thought however that no country would dare stand in the way of the directive, saying: 'It would be difficult to imagine, after the commitments taken, that some countries and colleagues would say no and we don't want to go ahead.'

UK officials emphasized after the meeting that the UK had obtained a 'grandfather' clause to protect the City's key eurobond business: the information-sharing rules would only apply to bonds issued after 1st March 2001 - the French had wanted this date to be 1st January 2001. Expect a bonanza in eurobond issues in the first two months of next year!


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