EU orders five countries to apply new laws on tax evasion

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The European Commission told five European Union countries on Thursday they must enforce new European Union (EU) laws aimed at tackling tax evasion within the next two months or else face court action.

The EU's executive warning to Italy, Poland, Belgium, Greece and Finland's self-governing Aland Islands comes amid increased public anger about large international companies and wealthy individuals who pay little or no tax.

The new laws require states to share information with each other on possible tax evaders and set deadlines for how quickly information must be provided. Countries cannot refuse requests to share information by saying the data is held by banks.

Member states should have begun applying the law from the beginning of 2013, the Commission said.

The five countries have two months to respond to the Commission or face possible referral to the EU Court of Justice, which has the power to levy daily fines if they do not comply.

Tax evasion has steadily crept up the EU's political agenda as governments struggle to increase revenues in a time of economic slowdown and to cut their budget deficits.

The EU's top official for tax, Mr Algirdas Semeta, said last week he wanted even stricter rules to require banks to provide customer information allowing countries to clamp down on tax dodging.

Wealthy Luxembourg, a long-time defender of banking secrecy, has signed up to exchanging information about EU citizens' bank accounts from 2015, but its officials have been rowing back in private on the type of data they are willing to hand over.

US coffee chain Starbucks agreed to pay an additional 20 million pounds (S$39 million) in United Kingdom tax last year after a Reuters investigation showed it assured investors the country was a profitable market after telling tax authorities its operations there lost money.

Revelations that other high-profile corporations such as Apple and Amazon have shifted profits around the world to cut their tax bills have also stoked public anger over tax avoidance schemes offered by countries.

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