Monday 23 September 2019

Varadkar and Macron differ on tax after 'robust' exchange

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Elysee Palace in Paris REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Elysee Palace in Paris REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Shona Murray

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron had a "robust" debate on how countries should tax multinational tech giants.

The two youngest EU leaders had their first official meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris yesterday, after meeting at a two-day summit with other EU leaders in Brussels last week.

"We had a difference of opinion about what the solution was", said the Taoiseach of his meeting with Mr Macron. "France has a view that it is best led by the European Union."

Mr Varadkar said he reminded Mr Macron that tax remains "an issue of national competency" and only national governments have the ability to alter a state's tax regime.

The Irish government insists that any changes to how such companies are taxed should be agreed on a global playing field as opposed to being left to EU member states.

"What will happen now is that the OECD and the European Union will produce proposals next year and then we'll take a look at them."

At last week's EU summit, the Irish government succeeded in getting European leaders to agree with the Irish position that the OECD should lead the way in shaping new tax policies for multinationals.

The French and German governments, as well as those of Spain and Italy, want to put an end to the ability of companies like Google, Amazon and Apple to use aggressive tax avoidance policies while also leaning heavily on infrastructure and public services paid with taxpayers' money. They also want to ensure their exchequers receive their fair share of corporate tax from sales to multinationals made in their countries.

It appeared last week as if Mr Varadkar was prepared to use Ireland's veto to prevent Mr Macron's proposals going through a council vote.

But the Taoiseach said yesterday: "I don't want to be threatening vetoes, that's not the best way to engage in European diplomacy and I think we should try to come to an agreement, but our strong view is that the best solution is an international one."

The two leaders spoke entirely in English, "his English is much better than my French", said Mr Varadkar, before adding he only has "Leaving Cert French which I hope will get a lot better".

Mr Macron said he will visit Dublin next year.

He also committed France to being "Ireland's closest EU member" after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland's relationship with France was "going to be really important" after Britain leaves the EU. He said Mr Macron was "particularly interested" in hearing about the specific challenges to Ireland triggered by Brexit.

"One thing I find more and more from travelling around Europe and meeting other European leaders is the extent to which we need to continue to explain the very unique issues that face Ireland. We assume everyone understands them; they don't always necessarily."

Mr Varadkar admitted EU leaders in Brussels were mostly concerned with how much the UK "will have to pay to leave" the EU.

He said he reminds them that for Ireland it is "about more than money; this is about the future of peace on our island."

Irish Independent

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