Britain, France and Germany called for stricter rules to stop companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon aggressively avoiding taxes in austerity bitten Europe, while acknowledging they had done nothing unlawful.
At a summit to discuss energy and tax policy, the leaders of the three largest EU countries took the opportunity at news conferences to lament the impact of corporate tax avoidance, following several cases involving US firms.
The issue has hit a nerve in Europe where many countries are cutting back on social spending and squeezing workers in order to reduce national deficits and debt.
Most recently a US Senate report found that Apple Inc had paid just 2% tax on 74 billion dollars in overseas income, largely by exploiting a loophole in Ireland's tax code.
We cannot accept that a certain number of companies can put themselves in situations where they escape paying taxes in ways that are legal, French President Francois Hollande said. We must coordinate at a European level, harmonize our rules and come up with strategies to stop this.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has put tax at the top of the agenda for a meeting of the G8 in Ireland next month, was equally clear about the need for coordination steps.
There is a real chance of seeing the sort of international action that we need to fix this problem, he said. You can't do it on your own, you have to have that international action and that is why I think today has been a bit of a breakthrough.
France and Britain in particular have grown concerned by the sheer scale of the legal tax schemes.