Maria Ryding is a new entry this year
The European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) is a
network of campaigning organisations working for change in
Europe. One of the changes it is pursuing is a transparent
multinational tax system, as it sees this as one of the key
battlegrounds through which poverty can be alleviated.
ITR's Joe Stanley-Smith sits down with Tove Ryding,
the organisation's tax justice manager, who has been among the
loudest dissenting voices around the BEPS Project.
International Tax Review: Could you talk us
through a bit of what you've been doing in 2015?
Tove Maria Ryding: As a European Network, it's our job to
keep an eye on the European government. We do that very much
with the perspective that we need a transparent tax system
where multinationals pay their fair share of tax, but we also
have a focus on poverty issues and developing countries.
We need to make sure that we have a tax system that helps to
eradicate poverty rather than undermining the fight against
We have indeed, in 2015, had an extremely busy year! All
through the year, together with partners across Europe, we were
monitoring everything that the EU governments were doing. We
launched our report at the end of 2015 called '50 Shades of Tax
Dodging', which was essentially the result of our
Another important thing was keeping an eye on BEPS, and the
BEPS negotiating. Generally, I must say it's a bit funny that
2015 is being described as the big year of BEPS. BEPS wasn't a
revolution. BEPS wasn't even a reform of the global tax system
– to us it seems more of a review of the tax system. I
think one of the most stunning parts of BEPS was that the OECD
basically decided to maintain very large parts of the broken
[Patent boxes] are a great example of what's wrong with the
global tax system. The fact that BEPS came out with a recipe of
how to make patent boxes is a good example of how BEPS is
actually explaining how to maintain the current system, instead
of explaining how we can fix the problems.
The recipe that the OECD has now presented as the 'real' way
to do patent boxes, we foresee as becoming the tax loopholes of
the future. So this was a really big concern, and there's a
number of other things that BEPS could've changed but didn't.
For example, the policy that citizens are not allowed to know
what multinational corporations are paying in taxes. This is
highly secret – BEPS could've changed this, but
didn't. Also the very basic situation where the tax laws for
multinational corporations are extremely unclear and complex,
so the real tax law actually gets written through secret tax
rulings, or 'sweetheart deals'.
This is an extremely opaque and problematic tax system,
where you get tax loopholes especially designed by governments
for multinational corporations. There's no way we can have a
level playing field among companies when this is the case, and
there's also no way we can have true transparency of the tax
system. These are areas where BEPS could've helped, but instead
it launched almost 2,000 pages of new guidelines on tax issues
– and on many points, the amount of change contained
therein was very limited. To a large extent, BEPS prescribes
business-as-usual, in a slightly updated manner.
2015 was also the year that the whistleblowers who gave us
the LuxLeaks revelations were charged. Antoine Deltour and also
Edouard Perrin, a French journalist, were both charged in
Luxembourg and could be risking jail time.
One of the very important things for us was also to make
sure that we didn't just sit by and let this happen. So we took
to the streets, we campaigned to raise awareness about the
injustice of this, and basically made the point that nobody
should be going to jail for showing the truth about what
multinational corporations are actually paying in taxes. This
information shouldn't be secret, and it shouldn't lead to
people going to jail.
So I think we've managed to put a lot of focus on the
importance of their work. We now have the somewhat tragic
circumstances that certain EU Commissioners are thanking them
for their work, yet no one is really discussing what we can do
to make sure that people that do such important work don't end
up being charged.
We will work against this injustice – the trial is
only starting in April , and the fact that we managed to
mobilise people to take to the streets was very important for
When the dust settles on 2015 and the history books get
written, I think it will be seen as the year in which
developing countries spoke out very strongly and said that they
do not accept the dominance of the OECD. The fact is that more
than 100 developing countries are excluded from the global
decision-making on tax issues. For us, a key achievement of
2015 was that we helped them to bring this issue back into the
debate. This issue is not resolved, and this debate will go
ITR: What about the state aid challenges we are
seeing in Europe?
TMR: The state aid cases are very interesting, but it's a
complete mission impossible. If you look at what they're doing,
they're taking tax rulings one-by-one – or, in the
case of Belgium, taking a small system of tax rulings
– and analysing them for years before coming to a
Keeping in mind that the Netherlands alone has more than
14,000 tax rulings, many of which the EU is not even allowed to
see, it's very clear that this approach of allowing tax rulings
to continue, allowing the unclear tax laws to exist, allowing
harmful tax practices to exist, and then trying to take the
consequences one-by-one and analyse whether it would constitute
illegal state aid… no matter how many state aid cases
they start, they're never going to get to the point where they
can create a watertight system. We need to change the system
instead of trying to run out and repair the damage
patch-by-patch, company-by-company, tax ruling-by-tax
It's a brave effort that Commissioner Vestager is putting
into it, but it's the wrong tool for the purpose.
ITR: What do you have planned for 2016?
TMR: The first thing for 2016 is that the developing
countries are still pushing for a global tax body under the
United Nations. We think this is the fair type of democratic
institution we should have. This, for us, also means that we
will also be in close dialogue with the EU government
– in the EU we are supposed to be democratic
countries, so how can we support a decision-making body where
100 countries are excluded when we make global tax
That's going to keep us busy!
Another very important issue is also that the European
Parliament has put a proposal on the table in the EU, and what
it means is that in 2016 we're going to have a very large
discussion about whether citizens should be able to see what
multinationals are paying in taxes. This debate is coming, and
it's going to be very big.