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PPI Tackles Tax Disputes in Europe

Last week, PPI led a bipartisan delegation of 10 high-ranking Congressional staffers to London and Brussels, which is still grieving in the aftermath of the March 22 terrorist attacks. Our visit there so soon after the atrocity was greeted warmly as an act of transatlantic solidarity.

The Digital Economy Study Group was the third such delegation PPI has taken to Europe in as many years. Our mission is to engage influential government and private leaders in exploring common ways to tackle our mutual dilemma of slow growth and stalled social mobility. We believe more innovation and growth are the best antidotes to the virulent strains of populism that are warping democratic politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Our trip began last Tuesday in London at 10 Downing Street, where Daniel Korski, deputy head of policy for Prime Minister David Cameron, briefed our delegation on the government’s efforts—including a low-tax patent or innovation box—to encourage greater digital investment in the UK. Then it was on to Westminster, where Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger led the group on an entertaining tour of Parliament, which also included a brisk dissection of Britain’s controversial Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax.

Also at Parliament, Labour MP Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, defended the government’s diverted profits tax as a response to public anger over the tax avoidance strategies of international companies. At breakfast the next day, veteran Labour MP John Spellar offered a trenchant analysis of how economic change and slow growth have scrambled British politics and led directly to June’s “Brexit” referendum. At UK Treasury, Financial Secretary David Gauke explained how recent reforms to corporate tax rules have resulted in greater foreign investment and business creation.

On Thursday, we took the Eurostar to Brussels, where the U.S. Mission to the European Union briefed us on difficult aspects of the US-EU economic relationship, including the new “Privacy Shield” agreement, international tax policy, and the TTIP trade pact. At the European Commission’s powerful Competition directorate, the group had a robust exchange of views with officials overseeing “state aid” investigations that have called into question tax agreements negotiated by EU member states and U.S. companies. We expect these issues resurfaced this week when Commissioner Margarethe Vestager visited Washington for talks with Congress and the administration.

Later, officials at DG CONNECT briefed the group on Europe’s efforts to establish a digital single market and plans for “platform regulation” to create space for European tech companies to grow. On Friday, the DG GROW team discussed their wide-ranging efforts to spur entrepreneurship and digital skills building across Europe. The growing gulf between U.S. and European views on tax policy also was the subject of a lunch with Bart Van Humbeeck, economic advisor to Kris Peeters, Vice-Prime Minister of Belgium, hosted by Paul Hofheinz of the Lisbon Council. Our last official meeting was with PPI friend Ann Mettler, Head of the European Strategy Centre, an in-house think tank for EU President Jean-Claude Junker.

These frank and in-depth discussions enabled us and Congressional staff to get a better understanding of the sometimes byzantine workings of the EU, as well as its often different perspectives on issues vital to both sides—privacy and cross-border data flows, digital innovation, trade, tax, copyright and more. The visits also have impressed on our European friends that U.S. policymakers are paying closer attention to such issues. PPI’s hope is to nudge these sometimes contentious conversations to common ground, and strengthen the fraying bonds of transatlantic economic cooperation.