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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Day at the European Parliament in Brussels

A day well spent in a city I like.  Yesterday, a few of us showed up at the European Parliament to attend a public meeting on FATCA.  It was group that well represented the forgotten stakeholders in this matter - the eggs that are being broken in the making of the FATCA omelet.  There were dual EU/US nationals there and spouses of EU citizens and parents of dual European/American citizens.

We will be writing up our notes and I will post as soon as I can.  In the interim, I thought I would share some of the drama around the meeting.  

We almost didn't get in in. We arrived over an hour early and that saved us. When we presented ourselves at the front desk of the Altiero Spinelli building they said we couldn't go in because we had to be "invited." When I replied that it was a public meeting, they told me that the meeting was public but getting into the building required that someone vouch for us. Who knew?

So we left the security area of the building, found a hotel, ordered a cup of coffee and called MEP Sophie in't Veld's office. I talked to Emily (a member of Sophie's staff), explained what had happened and she said she would call us right back. Less than five minutes later she did and told us to come back to the building. Emily personally met us at the entrance with another of Sophie's staffers, Thomas. They took care of our registration (yes, there was a registration process that we didn't know about) and then walked us up to the conference room. Our heartfelt thanks to both of them for their help.

Before the meeting we were able to talk to MEP Sophie in't Veld. She is just as dynamic in person as she is in the many videos of her available on the Net.  Then we sat down to listen to the speakers and the debate.

We were sitting in the back of the room and one of the duals with us had a sign at the end of the table which said, "Ask me about how FATCA impacts EU citizens." That raised a few eyebrows but no one said anything. It was when the same person held up his two passports, one Swedish and the other American, that we got some attention.  A gentleman who was stationed near the door to the meeting room (not sure who he was but he had an American accent) came over, got very close, and told him that he was NOT going to get to speak. I didn't hear the entire exchange but it was rather chilling.

After the meeting we were able to talk to quite a few people and to discuss directly with them the points we wanted to make. My impression was that they were very surprised both at what we had to say (their citizens were hurting because of the unintended consequences of FATCA) and that we felt strongly enough about it to come to Brussels in person for this meeting.

The afternoon ended at a local bar/cafe where some of us had a well-deserved beer (or a cola in my case)  before we had to leave for the train.

I hope those of you were interested were able to join the meeting via webstream.  Hopefully the video will be available soon. I would love to hear your impressions.  There is a good thread over at Isaac Brock here where people are already discussing it in the comments section.

Update:  Ellen LeBelle of AARO just published her impressions of the meeting.  I was so proud to be there with her - she was on top of everything, handing out business cards, engaging people in conversation and passing along AARO's message.  This is how the pros do it, mes amis. :-)

15 comments:

Daniel Kuettel said...

I wanted to go, but had to work. Yet, now I'm glad that I didn't go because otherwise I might have made some noise and gotten thrown out of the building!

Blaze said...

Thanks Victoria. I will post a link at Maple Sandbox.

There is a woman at the Sandbox who was born in Britain, became a US citizen when she was three and has been a French citizen for over 30 years. She has posted on the Renounce and Relinquish thread.

I'm not able to address some of her concerns about French banking, but I suggested you might be able to give more information on the FATCA situation in France. If you could reply to her there, I think it might help her to feel less alone and isolated.


Christophe said...

@Blaze, except for ING Direct, and Society Generale, whom I know have FATCA policies and restrict access to Americans, I was not aware of other banking problems in France. Would that be possible to elaborate on the difficulties she has?

If FATCA can't be stopped, then let's hope that the Global GACTA will be in place soon. When they'll have to report on all citizens and not just US, let's hope that the discrimination will stop. But IMHO, the discrimination started because of the threats of the US. Trying to impose their law, with severe penalties for non compliant FFIs is what causes that. Since the US might not stop its intimidation, the only way to stop the discrimination is to let the politicians in the countries of residence know what's happening and have anti-discriminations laws respected. It just can't be legal for a bank to deny access to a resident, regardless where that resident is from. I don't understand how they can get away with it, and even publicly post their discriminatory policies on their web site.

The problem is that lawsuits might be the only way to have these laws respected and that lots of costs money. It is just not right to have middle class people affected have to spend money to get the law respected. It would not even be right for someone rich, but I hope some rich American is going to sue and win.

Let's hope Sophie gets somewhere and at least get to make the discrimination to stop. We might not be able to stop FATCA, but I think stopping the discriminatory side effects is possible.

Rosy the Riveter said...

Like for Daniel, it's a good thing I couldn't go ("saved" by my job) since I wouldn't have had the self-control of a Victoria and might have wound up in a Belgian slammer. However, I have submitted 2 statements to the IRS under my "First Amendment right to be read to the end" (which should take them some time). One was sent in December when I finally finished the mountain of back-reporting, and one 48 hours ago with my 2012 return. Again, I warn against demanding that the US provide full reciprocity to FATCA partner countries, despite the logic of that, because then we really won't have any place to put our cash. And the more arrogant the US appears in dragging its feet on that, the more time we win toward a total disgust with FATCA on the part of nations like France that rushed into the IGAs thinking they'd get something in return.

Anonymous said...

Scary to read of the 'chilling' reception your colleague got just for displaying his dual passports. And interesting that yet another 'public' meeting depends on unstated conditions to access. Just attending is a feat it appears. Interesting too that it was suggested you speak with your home country representatives - thought it is the EU that is entering into this agreement. Hope the US Counsel was at least momentarily discomfited by the unexpected presence of the actual 'US taxable persons' that FATCA would be inflicted on. So easy to subject individuals in absentia. And a good reminder to the EU that the 'taxable persons' in question are also citizens of EU countries - many born there. Would be great if Ms. In't Veld could remind the EU that it is EU CITIZENS that the US seeks to tax and invade the privacy of - in addition to anyone else the US deems as tax subjects. Everyone in this goes along with the US attempts to define those it claims as 'taxpayers' as US first and foremost, as if that status should take precedence over our more salient non-US birth or acquired citizenships, our permanent homes outside the US and our decades or half century living elsewhere in the world. The EU and other countries need to wake up and sharply remind the US that their citizens don't belong to the US like slaves or indenture servants. The EU needs to look to the wellbeing of EU citizens and residents first, no matter what claims the US invents. After all, the US can - and has changed its definitions of 'taxpayer' and 'citizen' without consulting the rest of the world. And they will do so again as it suits them.

Many thanks for your efforts and your always fine reporting and blogging Victoria. Much appreciated. Gives us all heart to follow what is happening in other locales. And Sophie In't Veld is an inspiration too - would have liked to see her in action firsthand!
Take good care.
badger

Blaze said...

@Christophe: She posted some of her issues at Maple Sandbox, but then asked me to delete them because of her fears.

She has not yet encountered any problems in France. She only recently learned of FATCA and is quite frightened of what it could mean to her in the future.

I do not have any knowledge of French laws or banking to advise her in the way I can for someone in Canada.

It seems she has decided her best option may be to renounce US citizenship. She is asking questions about IRS implications of doing that.

If you have any advice for her, please feel free to drop into Sandbox and leave comments there. You will not be able to see one of her posts in which she shared some details because I deleted it at her request.

She has been a French citizen for over 30 years. She was born in Britain. This is one example of the terror people are feeling about FATCA as they learn about it.

As Victoria says “the eggs that are being broken in the making of the FATCA omelet.”

Christophe said...

Not related with this thread, but I just ran into this ruling by the Cour de Cassation, which I found interesting and worth sharing.
(From INFOS Hebdo n° 483 29 mai 2013)

En Francais dans le texte:
Etre binational ne donne pas, en France, les droits de l’autre nationalité. Un binational résidant en France est considéré, au regard de la loi française, comme n'ayant que la seule nationalité française. S’il tombe
malade en vacances dans le pays de son autre nationalité, il aura, en France, les droits d'un Français et non les droits d'un étranger travaillant en France. Il n’est donc pas concerné par les conventions bilatérales signées entre la France et l’autre Etat dont il a aussi la nationalité (Cass. Civ 2, 25.4.2013, N° 653).

Tim said...

YouTube version should now be available here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRoU-JNFhr0

Just me said...

I put up a blotched comment (which I can not edit) on IBS with transcripts of Robert Starks opening statement and follow on answers to questions.

It is here...
http://bit.ly/113pc5C

Direct link to Part I of Starks
http://bit.ly/17uC520

Direct link to Part II of Starks
http://bit.ly/15b3jGp

And then Sophie. Love that gal!

Direct link to Part I of Sophie
http://bit.ly/15b3WzU

Direct link to Part II of Sophie
http://bit.ly/18zGj5t

bubblebustin said...

Thanks to you, Victoria and others who attended. I just about fell asleep watching the video, that is until Ms In't Veld started talking. What a pistol!
I'm glad you made it in, and I'm looking forward to your comments.
I have the distinct impression that Mr Stack was trying to do a sales job on everyone. The US should be embarrassed to try and spin something that was so entirely unilateral as anything other that. It's almost farcical.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Daniel, And you might have come for nothing because we weren't aware there was a pre-registration process. One AARO person was turned away at the door.

@Blaze, Thank you so much. I'd be more than happy to talk to your reader. Tell her she can contact me via email if she likes.

@Christophe, I don't think FATCA can be stopped. Too many countries see an interest in cooperating. For me, the focus will be from now on raising awareness of the problems and trying to get mitigation. Thank you for the information - that would certainly seem to say that French citizens are not subject to another country's laws even if the hold nationality in that other state. Good to know.

@Rosy, I don't reciprocity as happening anytime soon. There are already political pushback and lawsuits in the US fighting even the limited amount of reporting that banks are being asked to provide to foreign countries now.

@Tim, Bless yourt hear for posting the video.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Badger, in't Veld was an inspiration. Yes, the focus here needs to be on EU citizens and their families who are impacted by this law. She tried to do this, and that did lead to some nods in that direction by some of the speakers, but they didn't answer those questions.

Why can't we ask them? That more than anything is deeply disturbing to me.

Tim said...

To Christophe's comments. Do I think FATCA in inevitable? Not necessarily. Do I think for example more tax cooperation and information sharing between EU member states is inevitable? Yes, and this is strongly supported by Ms. In't Veld. Would this take for the form of more information sharing or a complex so called "Rubrik" withholding system(pushed by Luxembourg, Austria, Switz et all). Well here is what I think of Rubrik many American centered tax commentators think Rubrik is morally wrong such Itai Grinberg and even to a degree Allison Christians. My suspicion while Ms In't Veld is not a Rubrik supporter if Rubrik was determined as a European "standard" that all EU member states would implement than I suspect she would support it. Having said that conceptually for most EU member states it would be quite complex and difficult to implement vs just sharing information.

Christophe said...

@Tim, thanks for your answer and thoughts.

I am not against information sharing if it's done the right way, to catch the right people, and doesn't harm expats and immigrants in the process.
Like most, I am outraged by tax evaders, and corporations that avoid paying huge amount of taxes because of loopholes.

Tax information sharing must happen between EU states, and also between EU and the US, but not under the threats that were in the FATCA law, and above all not started unilateraly.
Also, penalties for non compliant people should be appropriate.

Had the US worked with OECD and EU, instead of wanting to catch American tax evaders first, and done that in cooperation, instead of using threats, I don't think that this would have resulted in the discrimination of US persons.
Also, if the penalties for non compliant people would have been reasonable, there might not have been such a big push against FATCA from the American diaspora.
I think these were the main 2 mistakes the US made in that process.

Once an ally makes threats to get what they want, it's hard to get to the level of friendship that they had before.
In France, they say "Chat échaudé craint l'eau froide", which can be translated by "once bitten, twice shy". Even if they come to an agreement on a global GACTA,
the fact that the initial negociations started with threats won't go away. And I am afraid that some level of discrimination against US persons will still remain.
Take Switzerland. Even if they promoted tax evasion, they're pretty bitter about the consequences they're now paying for it and will be for a while. There is anger and bitterness towards the US. After all, the main guilty people in all this are the customers who deliberately chose to hide money.

And with the OVDI fiasco the trust in the IRS is gone. Even if they come up with a real path to compliance, people will still be afraid, and I suspect renunciations will continue to go up until the penalty structure comes down to something reasonable and the US gets rid of citizenship based taxation.

The Rubik tax agreement are interesting, because they maintain confidentiality/anonymity and shield the taxpayer from potential abuse from their governement.
Rubik might not be moral in Europe, where the penalties are reasonable, but I think it's totaly moral when the government is abusive with their penalty structure, like the US is.

I like Rubik. Maybe it's something they should consider. It might be a compromize with the confidentiality of the data that Europeans are concerned about.
But I think the US wants too much. They want high penalties to raise more revenue, they want to keep citizenship based taxation, they want FATCA (but no reciprocity), and they want it now, without the level of thought that needs to be put in all that.

Richa Bhardwaj said...
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