Large-scale tax evasion by multinationals, and the role being played by the Netherlands as a tax haven in this context, has received considerable attention from the media and from NGOs in the past year. Nonetheless, the subject now appears to have reached its cut-off point for the media: they seem to think that the general public cannot understand more detailed information than provided so far in news articles – that is, in a limited number of words. At least that was the opinion of the journalists who were present at the second edition of the Tax Research Seminar organised by SOMO on 24 April.

The interactive seminar brought together academics, journalists, Dutch politicians and NGOs to discuss the issue of tax evasion by large multinationals. The seminar consisted of several panel discussions with journalists, NGOs and politicians. All parties present were given the chance to explain the current state of affairs in their field. The journalists in the first panel discussion, including reporters from ‘de Volkskrant’ and ‘het Financieele Dagblad’, shared the opinion that media attention for this topic is set to soon disappear from the papers. Towards the end of May a report is expected on the costs and benefits of the current policy in the Netherlands. Until then the papers will continue to cover this issue. After that, continued coverage of tax evasion in the national media will depend on what happens next, in politics as well as in the public debate. To the dismay of some present, the journalists said that the future of tax evasion as a ‘trending topic’ is unsure.

Research into tax evasion

The research being conducted by organisations into the complex tax evasion system is still very much alive. In the second panel, researcher Francis Weyzig and SOMO-researcher Katrin McGauran shared their research on treaty shopping by the Netherlands and the effects of double tax treaties on developing countries. The third panel discussion with politicians also related to this topic and was introduced by Sol Picciotto of the University of Lancaster. Picciotto spoke of the developments in international politics and ‘unitary taxation’ as an alternative for current legislation.

The Netherlands’ international reputation

Not only NGOs, but also political parties set much store by this issue. In conclusion of the third panel session, Arnold Merkies, MP of the House of Representatives in the Netherlands, spoke on behalf of his party the SP about the lobby agenda of the Netherlands. Unlike last year, more MPs are actively working on keeping the issue high on the agenda of the House of Representatives. The fact that the international reputation of the Netherlands may be damaged by the label of ‘tax haven’ is not their only concern. More importantly, the unfair policy must be changed so that the Netherlands can no longer be a pivotal player in fiscal deceit by corporations.

Campaign and cooperation

Having achieved an overview of all the opinions and information, it was time to close the day with a lively discussion. Keeping in mind that the topic of tax evasion may be poised to disappear from the media agenda, ideas were presented for campaigns and cooperative actions. It is clear that for many tax evasion will not yet be allowed to be swept off the table, and steps will be taken to raise awareness of tax evasion among the general public, to keep the subject in the media and on the lobby agenda and so to limit the damaging role being played by the Netherlands in terms of tax evasion.