In addition to the introduction of a single carbon price in the EU, Ursula von der Leyen proposes two measures: an EU border tax equalizing the carbon price of imported products to that of those produced in the EU, and a "Just Transition Fund", "to support those most affected". The first proposal, which puts European producers on an equal footing with their competitors in countries with a lower carbon price than the EU, is clear - which does not mean, however, that it is easy to implement.Yet the second proposal is rather vague, even if the intention underlying it is straightforward: it aims to defuse the opposition of countries whose income is below the EU average and whose energy resources are essentially fossil, such as Poland.
The taxation of digital giants: an option based on added value
"Taxing the GAFAs" (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) has become a must for European politicians, perhaps because they have failed to create the right conditions to favour the emergence of European digital giants. The reform of the taxation of multinationals, which often take advantage of the differences in tax regimes between countries where they have subsidiaries, is a well-known topic, and is the subject of fierce negotiations within the OECD. Yet the taxation of digital platforms is more open and more difficult to tackle because it is more specific. The previous European Commission, under the pressure of France and Germany, proposed a 3% tax on the turnover of digital platforms, to be divided between countries according to their number of users. By emphasizing the importance of the education system, skilled labor or infrastructure, Ursula von der Leyen seems to be leaning towards a taxation of the value created in Europe, rather than the turnover. The argument in favour of turnover, according to which the user of the digital platform is the one creating value by allowing data about her to be collected - consider Google, for example -, is not without merit, but it can be challenged. Indeed, if it weren’t processed by the platform's algorithms, the information would be worthless, and thus not taxable. If the algorithms are partly created in Europe, von der Leyen's position seems more legitimate. And at the same time, in this multifaceted market, the user gets the information she is looking for for free, having implicitly traded the information she provides about herself for the service she is looking for. If the exchange were commercial, a consumption tax would be justified. From this point of view, taxing one of the data flows but not the other is highly asymmetric.
In fact, the situation has changed since the American position shifted in favour of an international agreement on the taxation of multinationals, be they tech companies or not, within the OECD framework, following the American corporate tax reform. In my opinion, the stance of the new President of the Commission seems to indicate that the European position will be more open, which would help to reach an agreement before the end of 2020, i.e. the goal set by the G20.
A minimum wage in each Member State? Really?
Ursula von der Leyen took up the idea of a "minimum wage", probably under pressure from Renaissance, as the latter’s head of list Nathalie Loiseau prioritized an extended minimum wage during her campaign. Since wage policies - or their absence (as in Germany) - are the prerogative of each country, the proposal was strongly federalist. Renaissance even seemed to consider that national minimum wages should be negotiated at the EU level. This would have allowed countries with high productivity, and therefore high wages, to put pressure on countries that are catching up, and therefore with low wages, thus reducing their competitiveness and ultimately worsening inequalities between countries. As a supporter of the social market economy, the foundation of Germany's extraordinary success since 1948, von der Leyen found a way to water down this pernicious idea. She claimed that the best solution was to have "collective bargaining by employers' unions and trade unions" so as to "tailor the minimum wage to the sector or to the region", which would implicitly prohibit the EU from interfering in minimum wages. And if the social partners do not see the need for a minimum wage, as in Denmark, Finland or Sweden, then it shouldn’t even be on the agenda.
An Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme: a good, yet not so simple idea
Still in her section on "social justice", even if it actually tackles macroeconomic stabilization, von der Leyen proposes a "European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme". She does not detail it much, except for the fact that it would be a way of dealing with severe external shocks. The issue of insurance against cyclical fluctuations between countries of the Eurozone had already sparked many debates among economists before the launch of the Euro. But since the Eurozone crisis, many concrete proposals have been made, based on the idea of contributions to a common pot made by countries in normal or good economic shape, which would fund transfers to countries affected by an economic shock. Most are considering basic insurance for employees in the Eurozone, with benefits paid directly to individuals. The idea of reinsurance between national systems differs in that payments to countries in difficulty would be made to their own unemployment insurance systems. This would have two advantages: the system would encroach less on the social and fiscal sovereignty of Member States, and it would be considerably easier to manage, as for companies.