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EU steps up efforts to roll out antigen testing across Europe

EU Reporter Correspondent



The European Commission has adopted a recommendation on the use of rapid antigen tests for the diagnosis of COVID-19 (18 November). The recommendation provides guidance on how to select rapid antigen tests; when their use is most appropriate, particularly when wider and swifter testing is warranted; and, advice that testing should be conducted by trained operators.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19. To increase EU co-ordination on testing methods, we are today providing guidance to member states on the use of rapid antigen test to better manage COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Antigen tests are cheaper, more scalable and much faster at delivering a result, they are however less accurate than PCR tests. Some think that antigen tests are, nevertheless, better at spotting those more likely to spread the disease and their speed may make them more effective. 

The Commission will work with member states towards creating a framework for evaluation, approval and mutual recognition of rapid tests, as well as for mutual recognition of test results, as a matter of urgency.  The WHO recommend tests with > 80% sensitivity and > 97% specificity. 

The Commission will monitor the market and availability of new rapid antigen tests, taking into consideration their clinical performance. The Commission will launch initiatives for the procurement of tests in order to ensure equitable access to rapid antigen tests as well as their swift deployment across the EU. 

The Commission has also signed an agreement with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  (IFRC) contributing €35.5 million, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), to scale up COVID-19 testing capacity in the EU. The funding will be used to support the training of staff for sampling collection and analysis and performance of tests, especially via mobile equipment.

The Commission is hoping that agreed testing regimes could contribute to the free movement of people and the smooth functioning of the internal market in times of limited testing capacities, they could be used at border points such as airports, to give a rapid test result.

Scientific and technical developments continue to evolve, offering new insights on the characteristics of the virus and the possibilities for using different methodologies and approaches for COVID-19 diagnosis. The Commission will update its advice as further information becomes available. 

European Central Bank (ECB)

Lagarde reiterates need for timely ratification of own resources decision

Catherine Feore



European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde confirmed that the ECB would maintain its very accommodative monetary policy stance. The Governing Council will continue to conduct net asset purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) and expects purchases to be conducted at a significantly higher pace than during the first months of the year.

Lagarde said that the eurozone still had a long way to go before phasing out of monetary easing. She compared the situation to an economy on crutches, that has to cross the bridge of the pandemic, and in the meantime it needs two crutches, one fiscal and one monetary.

On national fiscal policies, Lagarde said an “ambitious and co-ordinated” approach remained crucial as a premature withdrawal of support would delay recovery and amplify long term scarring effects. She said firms and households would need ongoing support. 

At a European level, she said the ECB Governing Council reiterated the need for a timely ratification of the own resources decision, to finalize recovery and resilience plans promptly and the need for the NextGenerationEU programme to become operational without delay. She said that this could contribute a faster, stronger and more uniform recovery and thereby add to the effectiveness of monetary policy in the eurozone.

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Corporate tax rules

Tax policy: EU solutions to prevent tax fraud and avoidance

EU Reporter Correspondent



Fair taxation is a priority for the European Parliament. Find out how it wants to tackle issues such as tax avoidance, tax fraud and more, Economy.

Infographic showing total tax revenue
Total tax revenue by EU country  

Tax policy, including the fight against tax fraud, has become a hot topic over the past decade due to journalistic investigations such as LuxLeaks, the Panama Papers, Football Leaks, Bahamas Leaks and the Paradise Papers, which revealed tax leaks and tax havens. They led to increasing unhappiness about damaging tax practices, particularly after the recession and the resulting budget constraints. Unpaid taxes result in smaller budgets both nationally and at EU level.

Tax policy has remained EU countries' own responsibility since the EU’s beginning, but the fight against tax fraud is shared by EU countries and the EU.

Taxation a priority for the European Parliament

Since September 2020, the Parliament has had a permanent sub-committee on tax matters. The committee was established to assist the economic and monetary affairs committee with taxation issues and deals with the fight against tax fraud, tax evasion and tax avoidance, as well as financial transparency in taxation.

During the 2014-19 parliamentary term, Parliament set up temporary special committees, including a special committee on financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance and an inquiry committee Inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of EU law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion. These committees identified a number of flaws in tax provisions.

EU tax measures

Some of the main legislative proposals in recent years regarding tax relate to the exchange of information through the Directive on Administrative Cooperation, which has been amended many times to provide:

Other proposals relate to corporate taxation and tax avoidance for example:

  • The common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB), which addresses the tax obstacles that arise from different national tax systems for companies that operate in the internal market in order to avoid the risks of double taxation or aggressive tax planning
  • Corporate taxation of a significant digital presence to allow members states to tax profits made in their territory, even if a company is not physically present there
  • A common system for a digital services tax, a tax on revenues stemming from for example the transmission of data collected about users on digital interfaces
Infographic about gross domestic product for each EU country as well as direct and indirect taxes
Infographic showing for each EU country the gross domestic product as well as direct and indirect taxes  

In addition, there have been many proposals to update the VAT framework. The tax matters subcommittee is currently working on a report on how to create a new basis for taxing the profits of digital companies in countries where they operate, even when they do not have a physical presence.

The report will set out Parliament’s views ahead of the final global negotiations at the OECD, which are expected to be finalised by mid-2021. By June at the latest, the Commission is also expected to put forward a proposal on a digital levy as part of reforming the EU's system of own resources and financing the economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic.

About the infographics

Our infographic at the top shows the income from direct and indirect taxes for each EU country as well as total tax revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product. The latter is divided between taxes on capital, consumption and labour. In addition, our map shows how wealthy countries are.

Infographic showing the VAT rates for EU countries
Standard VAT rate for different EU countries  

Find out more 

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European Parliament

European Parliament gives partial go-ahead to UK trade deal vote

EU Reporter Correspondent



The European Parliament gave the go-ahead on Tuesday (13 April) for two key committees to vote this week on the EU-UK trade deal, but deferred a decision on whether the full parliament will give its assent later this month, writes Philip Blenkinsop.

The vote by parliament would be a final step in clearing the trade agreement struck between Britain and the European Union in December. Members of the parliament suspended the voting process in March in protest against British changes to arrangements on Northern Ireland.

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