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9. 10.

98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 310/51

(98/C 310/63) WRITTEN QUESTION P-0330/98

by Ulf Holm (V) to the Commission
(10 February 1998)

Subject: Public sector in Sweden

In connection with the public sector cutbacks in Sweden in recent years, it has been argued from several quarters
that the public sector in Sweden is too big compared with other Member States. A large public sector forces up
taxes which in turn is considered to put the country’s industry at a disadvantage. However, the Swedish minister
responsible for taxation, Thomas Östros, has claimed that the problem has more to do with other Member States’
low levels of tax which create unfair competition. The tax burden as a percentage of GDP is 50.2% in Sweden,
whereas, in France, it is 44.5%.

Does the Commission consider that the large public sector in Sweden is in any respect a cause for concern for the
EU’s internal market?

Answer given by Mr de Silguy on behalf of the Commission

(7 April 1998)

Member States have been faced in the last three decades with a substantial increase in their government
expenditure as share of the gross domestic product (GDP) as well as in their tax burden (i.e. the sum of indirect
taxes, direct taxes and social contributions in % of GDP). The size of the tax burden varies among Member
States. In this respect, Sweden is in the group with the highest tax burden together with Denmark (53%-54% of
GDP in 1996). Other Member States can roughly be divided into two groups, a middle group (tax burden of
42%-48% of GDP in 1996) consisting of Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,
Austria and Finland, and a group having a lower tax burden (33%-36% of GDP in 1996) with Greece, Spain,
Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

The priority of budgetary policy within the Community in the 1990s has been to improve the public finance
situation in Member States and to make it sustainable in the medium term. The Commission, supported by all
Member States, has outlined, in particular in the broad economic guidelines, a strategy for achieving this
objective. Firstly, prominence should be given to restraining expenditure as opposed to further increases in the
tax burden. Secondly, action to reduce expenditure should be accompanied, to the extent possible and without
threatening the necessary reduction in budget deficits, by a shift in government spending priorities towards more
productive activities. Thirdly, the desired reduction in the tax burden in most Member States, especially on
labour, should be carried out so that tight expenditure control makes tax reductions consistent with the
achievement and maintenance of sound budget balances.

The Commission also believes that, given the inter-relationship between taxation policy on the one hand and the
single market, economic and monetary union (EMU) and the fight against unemployment on the other, Member
States stand to gain from increased co-operation in tax measures. Harmful competition between tax regimes of
the different Member States should thus be avoided.

(98/C 310/64) WRITTEN QUESTION E-0350/98

by Amedeo Amadeo (NI) to the Commission
(17 February 1998)

Subject: Environmental taxes

The Commission has issued a communication entitled ‘Environmental Taxes and Charges in the Single Market’

Once the Commission has completed its assessment of the economic and environmental impact, will it draw up
an additional communication clearly spelling out the exact criteria for establishing such taxes?