Too kind of you. As Mr. Tang has said, on this issue the European Parliament has no legal power. Our power is limited to giving an opinion and this opinion is not binding for the Council. The Council can only take a decision on the basis of unanimity and probably with ratification by national parliaments. That means the Oireachtas will have the final say. We work in close relationship with national parliaments to try to facilitate an exchange of views among members. We held an interparliamentary conference. Some members here took part and it was on that occasion that we were invited and decided to come to see the committee. Our role is to facilitate negotiations, discussions and exchanges of views between national parliaments and between governments - to be facilitators, as it were.
We also express the concerns of the European citizens we are accountable to, as the members here are accountable to their constituents and tax payers. We, as Mr. Tang mentioned, are in no position to teach lessons to anybody. My country, France, has always been a good friend of Ireland. We stand by Ireland on all issues, particularly those linked to Brexit. However, France is a bad pupil on some major European issues, particularly all the criteria of good governance in the economic and monetary union. It is not a matter of national concern. It is a matter of European discussion.
Clearly, on the Continent, what triggered all these concerns on and calls for reforms of corporate tax issues were scandals when all our citizens discovered some member states among the European family had managed to rob tax bases and tax wealth from their partners. That is not acceptable. Corporate tax was considered highly technical and boring. Now, all European citizens understand that in our Union some multinationals can manage to pay no taxes at all while the ordinary citizen of the SME pays normal tax. It is unacceptable. We must put an end to that.
The second point is that there are political differences of course between the left wing and the right wing. It is the case in the Dáil and Seanad, and it is the case in the European Parliament. The European People's Party, EPP - of which Fine Gael is a member in the European Parliament - accepts the principle of tax competition. That is clear. We do not object to the choice by the Irish Government of a tax rate of 12.5% - a rate that seems to be part of the Irish identity and even the Irish Constitution. A former President of the French Republic realised that when he challenged this rate.
That is not the problem. Our concern is to ensure that all the rules and principles we all apply unanimously in all fields of economic issues throughout the Union apply to tax competition as well.
It has not been the case so far because on tax our competition is obscure, disloyal and unfair. We must ensure from now on that it is transparent, loyal and fair.
To achieve that goal, it is necessary to have the same definition of the taxable profit. We do not hear a credible objection against the principle of the same definition of the taxable profit. We can disagree on the content of the definition, of course, and it is a matter for the negotiation on the CCCTB. Should we deduct or super-deduct research spending? Should we ensure that there is neutrality between financing investments by borrowing or by equity and so forth? The content of the definition is a matter for debate. In the context of the principle, however, I cannot understand any objection so far. We can compare it with the US. The US has corporate tax at state and federal level. It is far simpler for the US to have a single federal corporate tax at federal level. It would be simpler and more effective for the competitiveness of our companies and multinationals based in the member states if we have the same tax paid through the same system. This is, of course, along with enabling the member states, on the same basis, to apply their own rate to this, as has been the case with VAT for 40 years since the 1970s when Ireland joined the then Common Market.
The third point, as Paul Tang said, is that the same definition of tax base and the consolidation are closely related. All the multinationals we consult, be they American, European or French multinationals in my country, are quite definite on that. Either the reform comprises both elements - same definition and consolidation, CC and CCC - or it would bring about more complexity and would be less interesting for them.
On the digital platform, now is the time to find a way to tax these new business models which did not exist when we devised our national corporate tax. This is the digital economy and, particularly, the digital platform. I can give an example. Facebook has 30 million users in France, including me. Facebook pays no tax in France. How can we justify that? It is impossible. Now is the time to find a common definition of what is a digital permanent establishment and to find a common system to distribute the tax revenues of these digital platforms among the member states, for the multinationals that have operations and activities in several member states. Of course, when we think of digital platforms today, it is the GAFAs - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - and American multinationals, but when we establish a new tax system, we must not forget that it is not for the next few years but for the coming decades. We all hope that in ten, 20 or 30 years there will be some European digital multinationals, including French, Dutch and Irish multinationals. If we engage in taxing the multinational, it is not to punish the GAFAs, which would be ridiculous and counterproductive, but to settle a real issue. We were impressed in Tallinn, which we visited during the Estonian Presidency, to note that Estonia, which is the leader in the digital economy, is particularly keen to find a way not to kill the golden goose but to take fiscal tax revenues from the golden eggs.
The final point is that it is obvious and clearly laid down in the European treaties that tax matters pertain to national sovereignty. However, the EU, with the special procedure of unanimity of member states and national ratification, can step in or intervene whenever tax provisions could impair the fairness of competition in the great Single Market. We must also comply with the subsidiarity principle. The subsidiarity principle does not mean that all issues must be dealt with at the lowest level possible. It means that every issue must be tackled at the relevant level, the level where we are more efficient, and, depending on the issues, it might be a very low municipal or regional level, national level or the EU level. When it comes to taxing multinationals, negotiating with multinationals and negotiating with international partners such as the United States, the relevant level is the EU.
There are member states smaller than Ireland whose GNI is far lower than the turnover or even benefit of some multinationals. How can they negotiate on the same level with these multinationals? With regard to Google, Facebook and so forth, if some members tried to engage in taxing their profits or sales at national level, it would be ridiculous to have 27 different Google taxes in member states. We know that after agreeing among ourselves, hopefully, a common European system we will have to negotiate with our other international partners, starting with the US. None of our member states, be it Germany, France or another country, is able to negotiate on an equal level with the US Congress. If we want to ensure that the recent important overhaul of the US corporate tax achieved in the US Congress is compatible and amended to take on board our concerns and to find common rules, politically it will probably be in the framework of the OECD but if there is no direct contact and negotiation between the EU and the US Congress nothing will happen on these issues in the OECD.
We risk endangering our work competitiveness and our future in the EU. We understand the role that tax attractiveness played in Ireland's economic model. The French admire the way the Irish have managed to have today an average income higher than the French average income given that when Ireland joined the EU at the beginning of my administrative career, Ireland was one of the poorer countries of the then Common Market. I say congratulations on that. We do not want to jeopardise the situation but we want to apply the principle of loyal co-operation within the European family, and among the member states. It is in that frame of mind that we appear before the joint committee.