One rate fits all for EU tax

There’s more at stake in this weekend’s election in Germany than politics.
Tax has become the key battleground as finance minister-in-waiting Dr Paul
Kirchhof promises to make Germany the first major country in Western Europe to
introduce a 25% flat rate of tax.

The flat tax wind has been sweeping across the EU from its eastern European
neighbours for some time, with smaller states already quietly considering the
issue. But Kirchhof threatens to put it centre stage, using Germany’s political
muscle to force other states to think again on their tax systems.

Appointed just last month, Kirchhof’s impact has already been felt on UK
shores, with Conservative shadow chancellor George Osborne announcing a
‘high-level’ commission to examine the benefits of a flat tax system. The
Treasury has already dismissed any changes outright.

But it won’t be all plain sailing for the Heidelberg Professor. His party,
the centre-right Christian Democrats, will first have to convince the electorate
and unseat the long-standing chancellor Gerhard Shröder on 18 September.
Kirchhof also has to win round colleagues in his own party and there are doubts
as to how far Angela Merkel, the CDU’s chancellor-in-waiting, would be prepared
to go if she wins office.

The 62-year-old former judge has long been a critic of Germany’s tax laws. He
proposes a radical reform of the country’s 90,000 tax rules and 418 exemptions
with each citizen paying just 25 cents out of each euro earned in tax. Under
this system, income over a basic allowance is taxed at the same rate, rather
than an increasing scale, while complex reliefs and exemptions are abolished and
corporate and income rates become the same.

Kirchhof has already appealed to Germany’s voters claiming that his system
would abolish the current 4,000-page ‘red bible’ used to navigate around its
complex tax laws and fill in tax returns. He promises that a flat tax rate would
ensure a speedier process, rather than the ‘12 Saturdays’ it currently takes to
complete German tax returns.

More significantly, Kirchhof also argues that flat rates of tax have already
kick-started economies in Eastern Europe, with the Ukraine operating a 13% tax
rate and Romania 16% and could provide a similar boost to Germany’s beleaguered

He claims that he could begin implementing his reforms by 2007, and Merkel,
desperate to come up with a solution to tackle the country’s five million
unemployment rate, has given Kirchhof her support – for now.

But the tax expert is known to be uncompromising. He is a Eurosceptic and, as
a former constitutional court judge, drafted the 1993 ruling on the Maastricht
Treaty, which gave Germany a right to strike out any EU law that breached its

He has also ruled out serving in a coalition government, or any attempt to
water down his hardline tax views, while many in the party believe that Merkel
will shy away from full implementation.

But whether Kirchhof attains a senior government position or not, he remains
one of Europe’s most outspoken tax experts and with countries such as Greece
already examining a 25% rate, he may see his reforms slowly take root across the

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