European Union finance ministers called for a united global fight against tax fraud, while attempting to downplay concerns over disagreements within the bloc on crucial banking sector reforms. Officials say that tax fraud and firm's aggressive efforts to avoid taxation have cost the 28-nation bloc's governments an estimated 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) a year. According to the EU's Taxation Commissioner, Algirdas Semeta, the EU is determined to move towards a global automated exchange of banking information to catch tax cheats holding undeclared assets abroad.
"In the area of automatic information exchange we have the experience, the expertise and the collective weight to considerably influence the international environment," he added. "We must maintain a high level of ambition," he insisted.
The EU, the world's largest economy, is planning to adopt such an agreement by the end of the year. The agreement comes after much resistance from Luxembourg and Austria, both of which pride themselves on banking secrecy.
The second day of talks were focused on the completion of the bloc's planned banking union that emerged Friday. Debates raged on, but solutions are far from reach.
"So far there have been cannon shots going back and forth, but there hasn't actually been a debate on how it could be solved," Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.
Time is of the essence as failure to come to an agreement could result in a delay of over a year due to the upcoming elections in the European Parliament in May and the departure of the current EU Commission next fall.
Commissioner Michel Barnier, in charge of financial services, insisted that contentious discussions in an early phase were normal. The goal is to better protect savers and shield taxpayers from having to fund further bailouts, he said. "So this takes time, it doesn't fall out of the sky," he said.
The euro countries have already agreed to set up a centralized bank oversight to be anchored with the ECB due to take effect next year.