Tax evaders are an attack on social cohesion

Copyright: European Parliament, 2016.

This week, the journalists of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) presented their findings of the Panama-Leaks in the European Parliament. Gerard Ryle, Director at the ICIJ, made clear, that it is the duty of journalists to disclose information revealing shameful practices by individuals, companies and authorities. Politicians then have to take up these issues and act on behalf of the citizens. Bastian Obermayer, journalist at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, who was contacted by the whistleblower John Doe, addressed his expectations to the European Parliament: “We [the journalists] have the hope that the European Parliament will bring even more light into this system where the super rich evade taxes.”

I completely agree with Mr. Ryle’s and Mr. Obermayer’s statements. As Members of the European Parliament, we have to make sure that it will become impossible for tax evaders to circumvent their contribution to the financing of our social system and public welfare. Tax evasion and avoidance are an attack on social cohesion. Whereas the ‘ordinary people’ pay their taxes, the super rich don’t or only partly do it. The gap between the rich and the poor thus becomes bigger and bigger. I therefore understand the people who think that the current tax system is unfair. They have good reason to start questioning the established political parties and governments.

As the journalists said during the public hearing, the problem of tax evasion can only be tackled, if tax authorities cooperated better across borders, if ownership of companies was made transparent, and if existing tax laws were enforced. Yet, in my point of view, we also need to put pressure on the international community. Purely national or European solutions will otherwise go into the void. What we need is an international cooperation. This is the only way to create a society, in which everybody pays his or her fair share.

Copyright: European Parliament, 2016.

Fairness is also an issue we have to address with regard to those individuals who have the courage to disclose information to journalists in the public interest and who risk their jobs, status and sometimes even their liberty in doing so: the whistleblowers. Our legal systems don’t provide for adequate protection of these people. Only recently, the whistleblowers of the Lux-Leaks, Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet, were sentenced on probation by a Luxembourgish court. Whistleblowers deserve legal protection.

In this regard, we also have to better protect our journalists and the freedom of the press around the globe. As Kristof Klerix, journalist at the Belgium Knack Magazine, explained during the public hearing, lawyers and even some authorities tried to convince journalists not to publish certain articles about the findings of the Panama-Leaks. They put pressure on journalists to disclose their sources. This is above all a problem existing beyond the European Union. I am therefore convinced that the European Union should put more efforts into the promotion of quality journalism, media freedom and media pluralism in third countries.