LONDON — Pressing ahead where others have balked, 11 European countries received the green light Tuesday to plan a financial transaction tax that could generate billions of dollars in revenue for cash-strapped governments.
Led by Germany and France, the European Union’s two heavyweights, the nations will now work out how to introduce a levy on the buying and selling of stocks and bonds and on the use of complex financial instruments known as derivatives.
Advocates say such a tax is not only necessary to help discourage risky transactions like those that precipitated the 2008 global financial meltdown, but also a fair way to make financial institutions pay to help clean up the leftover mess.
The move is a controversial one. The U.S., at the urging of Wall Street, has opposed a financial transaction tax; so has Britain, which is home to Europe’s largest financial trading hub.
Hesitation in London as well as some other European capitals stalled a proposal, made in September 2011, to charge a unified financial transaction tax across the 27-nation EU. The 11 countries, all of which share the euro as their currency, decided to forge ahead on their own, deepening integration among a subset of EU members that together account for more than half of the region’s economic output.
It is only the third time that the EU has invoked a treaty provision allowing a limited number of members to act in concert without the rest of the bloc — although the other members’ approval to do so is needed — and the first time that such a move has focused on tax policies. Algirdas Semeta, the EU’s tax commissioner, told reporters at a meeting of finance ministers Tuesday that the decision represented a “major milestone.”
Just how much money a financial transaction tax would produce for the 11 participating nations is unclear. EU-wide, officials had estimated that a levy of just 0.1 percent on trades of stocks and bonds and 0.01 percent on derivatives could bring in $75 billion a year.
Funds from the tax could help shore up struggling banks, which have been hit hard by the ongoing euro debt crisis. The money could also ease the pressure on European governments that have had to rescue some of those banks at taxpayer expense while at the same time drastically slashing public spending to bring down their budget deficits.