They are “modern day pirates” and “vampires”, said two members echoing the words of the EU tax commissioner who said “they shun daylight and transparency”.
Many called of EU and UN level action “it is just a question of political will”.
One MEP argued tax avoidance should be made a Brexit issue.
A further MEP said the EU needed to do more to protect whistle blowers’ lives “as in Malta” when journalist Caruana Galizia was killed in a car explosion to silence her blog on the Panama papers.
The debate was triggered by the so-called Paradise Papers leak from the offices of Appleby in Bermuda which showed how wealthy individuals used offshore mechanisms to save tax.
Tackling tax avoidance was already a key objective of the Estonian presidency before the document cache from the Appleby offices came to light. The files were first handed to Suddeutsch Zeitung who then shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Shocked but not surprised
EU tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told MEPs he was “deeply indignant” at the “global and perfectly oiled circuit of aggressive tax planning”.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “We have known for a long time that multinationals, wealthy taxpayers, consulting firms and banks, work hand-in-hand, to exempt huge amounts of income from taxation. And we are not facing isolated incidents, but systemic, global, and organised practices.
“These aggressive tax optimisation schemes are all the more shocking because many of them are apparently legal.
“We must therefore respond on the ground of the law to a defect of the law, with a new regulatory framework.
“If it’s legal, as some people claim, then you have to change the law. And I want to do it with the help of this Parliament.”
He reiterated proposed new transparency rules for tax intermediaries, lawyers, bankers, consultants, who sell these tax optimisation schemes to “systematically declare them to the tax authorities of the buyer’s country”.
“If these schemes are illegal, the tax authorities will be able to prosecute,” he said. “If they are legal, tax administrations will be able to spot the fault and repair it.”
“I hope that the Council will adopt the proposal on tax intermediaries in the next 6 months.”
He also pledged more transparency on beneficial ownership under the EU’s Money Laundering Directive.
However, Muscovici admitted: “that the negotiations are struggling to find a satisfactory outcome. I deeply regret it, and I encourage the co-legislators to make every effort to ensure that these new rules can be implemented as soon as possible.”
The commissioner’s speech highlighted pledges for country by country mandatory public reporting for companies and the publication of an off shore blacklist.
An off shore blacklist was mooted after the Panama Papers leak and is expected to be brought into effect during the next EU Council of Finance Ministers on 5 December.
Appleby, the law firm at the centre of the scandal, have apologised to clients claiming they were targeted by a professional hacker and arguing they have done nothing wrong.