- Dutch Presidency publishes its Working Programme – 7 January
- Commission concludes Belgian “Excess Profit” tax scheme illegal – 11 January
- European Parliament ECON Committee holds hearings with Minister Gramegna and Commissioner Moscovici – 11 January
- Member States discuss VAT fraud in ECOFIN Council – 15 January
- European Parliament votes on the Digital Single Market and Annual Competition Report – 19 January
- Switzerland to join other countries in signing a multilateral agreement on exchange of Country-by-Country information – 22 January
“Vestager: We should thank the Luxleaks whistleblowers” – 11 January
In an exclusive interview to Euractiv, Commissioner Vestager has expressed her gratitude to whistleblowers for bringing the debate on corporate tax practices into the forefront in Europe. Moreover during the same interview she expressed her support for Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR), although not clearly stating whether or to what degree it should be subject to public disclosure.
Taxation in the EU Member States 2014 – 15 January
Eurostat has published statistics on tax that provide comparisons on trends in Member States between 2013 and 2014. Of greatest interest, the statistics reveal that in 2014 the tax-to-GDP ratio in the EU increased from 39,9% in 2013 to 40,0% in 2014. Corresponding figures for the Eurozone demonstrated an even higher rise, with 41,2% and 41,5%, respectively.
Call for applications for the selection of non-government members to the Tax Good Governance Platform – 15 January
The European Commission’s expert group Platform for Tax Good Governance has launched a call for applications for non-governmental stakeholders. The mandate of the current members of the Platform ends in April 2016. The deadline for submitting expressions of interest is 15 February.
The VAT Committee agrees guidelines for online gambling services – 18 January
The European Commission’s VAT Committee has agreed on and published new guidelines applicable to online gambling services. The VAT Committee is an expert group consisting of representatives from Member States and the European Commission, and has no legislative powers and its guidelines are not legally binding. Its main role is to give guidance on the application of the VAT Directive.
Commission publishes summary of responses to corporate tax transparency consultation – 20 January
The European Commission has published a summary of stakeholder responses submitted for the consultation on corporate tax transparency, which closed on 9 February. Approximately 90% of business responses were submitted by “large multinationals”. Unsurprisingly, most business respondents either stated that there is no need for change or that any further tax transparency steps should take place as part of international initiatives. 96% of civil society respondents for their part replied that the EU should be at the forefront. With regard to other more specific corporate tax transparency related questions, the divide between business and civil society stakeholders remains rather consistent and in line with expectations.
European Parliament ECON Committee holds hearings with Minister Gramegna and Commissioner Moscovici – 11 January
The ECON Committee of the European Parliament (EP) has held a public hearing with the Luxembourgish Minister of Finance Pierre Gramegna and Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. The hearing with the Minister wrapped up the Luxembourg Presidency’s work and achievements in the area of tax. The Luxembourgian Minister gave an overview of the key developments, and replied to a variety of questions asked by MEPs who were in particular unhappy with the compromise agreement between Commission and the Council on the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) in the field of taxation. Several representatives lamented the fact that the Council did not take the opinions expressed by EP in its report into account. The Minister furthermore defended the weak role of EP in EU tax affairs, arguing that taxation is one of the key pillars of national sovereignty, expressed his well-known opposition to a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) and expressed faith in an agreement between the Member States and EP on Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR).
Later on the same day Commissioner Moscovici addressed the ECON Committee MEPs, who presented the Commission’s 2016 plans in the area of direct taxation. The MEPs asked a number of questions especially on CBCR, which as well known is a scheme that the MEPs are particularly insistent on. He furthermore re-confirmed Commission’s intention to re-launch the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) in two stages (current expectation is in September), and to re-cast the Interests and Royalties Directive. With regard to the anti-BEPS package anticipated for 27 January, the Commissioner emphasised that this would include an external strategy, including potentially recommendations for common criteria to define tax havens. Moreover, the Commission is aiming to have the package adopted by June, by the end of the current Dutch Presidency. The OECD BEPS recommendations will form the basis, but the Commission will propose to go even further on certain items. With regard to CBCR, a minimum CBCR regime will be proposed as part of the anti-BEPS package which will be in line with the OECD BEPS requirements. As is known, at the beginning of March, once the results of the ongoing CBCR impact assessment are available, the Commission will consider whether (or not) to move even further with various transparency options – the key issue being potential negative effects on the competitiveness of EU companies. The Commissioner however re-iterated his well-known personal support for public CBCR. The possibility of a Fair Taxpayer Label will be considered as a part of the Commission impact assessment on CBCR. On minimum rates of taxation, the Commissioner emphasised that no discussions on the topic have been finalised nor does the Commission agree with minimum EU levels of taxation, but the Commission will focus on effective taxation (i.e. against a scenario where companies pay very little or no tax in the EU). The Commissioner was rather silent on VAT (as the hearing focused on direct tax), but confirmed the well-known fact that a new VAT package focusing on VAT fraud is to be anticipated for the upcoming months. The Commission will furthermore look into whether VAT in the digital economy should be dealt with separately or as part of the Digital Single Market package. As a side-note, the ECON Committee will put forward a draft own-initiative report on VAT soon. Finally, during the hearing the MEP Neena Gill (S&D/UK) asked the Commissioner on the responsibility of tax advisors in tax fraud. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici contended with referring to the audit legislation which will have to be implemented by 2016 and which includes provisions separating the provision of audit services from tax advice.
GUE-NGL initiates legal challenge against the Commission on TAXE Committee’s access to documents – 13 January
As reported by a number of organisations and media sources, the Left wing GUE-NGL group has initiated a legal challenge at the Court of Justice of the EU, demanding for full access to sensitive documents for the investigative purposes of the European Parliament’s TAXE Committee. The requested documents notably include minutes from meetings of the Council’s Code of Conduct Group that might reveal different Member States’ positions with regard to tax policy. The purpose of the legal challenge is to pressure the Commission to provide all requested documentation, or face legal action.
European Parliament votes on the Digital Single Market, provisions on direct tax and VAT included – 19 January
The European Parliament has adopted its own-initiative report on the Digital Single Market (DSM) with a stark majority of 551 in favour and 88 against. The amendments tabled for and passed through the final plenary vote made no changes to the DSM report’s tax provisions. As a reminder, On the VAT side, the report notably welcomes the Mini One-Stop Shop (MOSS) system but expresses concerns over a lack of thresholds for SMEs. It moreover calls on the Commission to submit a proposal allowing Member States to reduce VAT rates for the press, digital publishing, ebooks and on-line publications, calls for a “simplified online VAT scheme”, as well as for a simplification of the cross-border VAT system in the EU. And finally, the report calls for the establishment of an EU-wide Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) in order to prevent “market distortion”, tax avoidance and tax evasion, and to foster better coordination on taxation. The DSM report is non-binding, but gives indications of the MEPs’ positions in the dossier in anticipation of Commission proposals later this year.
MEPs vote on Annual Competition Report 2014 – 19 January
The European Parliament has adopted its own-initiative report on the Annual Competition Report. The report is based on the European Commission’s annual reporting on the challenges, opportunities and recommendations for economic growth and fostering competitiveness in EU Member States. It sets out general recommendations to improve competition, and targets corporations’ tax practices and their impacts on Member States’ economies. The report in particular calls for public Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR) across sectors, for a full Common Consolidated Tax Base (CCCTB) regime, for the Commission to go beyond the OECD BEPS recommendations, for harmonised tax bases, for penalties against Member States and companies involved in “harmful tax practices”, and to change current tax-related state aid rules so that recovered tax income can be allocated to the Member States which have suffered from an erosion of their tax bases due to the scheme, or to the EU budget, as opposed to the Member State which granted the illegal tax-related State aid in the first place.
MEPs discuss priorities of the Dutch Presidency with Dutch Prime Minister, urge to address tax – 20 January
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has addressed the European Parliament and answered to a number of questions from MEPs with regard to the Dutch Presidency’s priorities for the six months ahead. In the area of tax, some MEPs notably blamed the Netherlands for its role in facilitating tax evasion and avoidance, for profits to be paid where they are generated, and in general for further strengthening tax fairness in the EU.
MEP Questions & Answers
New European rules on VAT on e-commerce – 10 December
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Pablo Zalba Bidegain (EPP/ESP) with regard to EU rules on VAT for e-commerce. In his question, Mr. Zalba Bidegain brings up criticism from “various market players” towards the VAT rules mandating that in e-commerce transactions VAT must be paid in the country of the consumer. The critics argue that this rule causes distortions in the market and could hinder further progress towards the digital single market. The MEP consequently asks the Commission whether it has assessed the impact of this rule change on SMEs operating in the area of e-commerce, and what measures the Commission considers in order to ensure continued progress towards a digital single market. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici points out that the changes in question were sought by Member States and businesses in order to address BEPS issues. Furthermore, the new rules better ensure a level playing field within the Member State of the consumer since the same VAT rate will apply regardless of the country of the supplied. And finally, the Commissioner confirms that it will put forward a proposal to modernise VAT for cross-border e-commerce in 2016, which will include notably the extension of the current Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS) to cross-border supplies of tangible goods, the removal of the exemption for the importation of small consignments, the application of home country rules including invoice requirements, storage of data and audits, and the introduction of a VAT exemption threshold for start-up companies in respect of their EU sales.
Creation of a European Tax Agency – 10 December
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Ramon Jáuregui Atondo (S&D/ESP) with regard to a European Tax Agency. In his question, Mr. Jáuregui Atondo recommends for the Commission to establish an EU Tax Agency with notably the purpose of managing the database of tax rulings, objectively drawing up and maintaining the blacklist of tax havens, drawing up and maintaining the list of cross-border tax evaders and avoiders, and drawing up studies and proposals. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici doubts whether the establishment of such an agency would be an appropriate solution due to the limitations that EU Treaties establish with regard to the EU’s areas of competence (whereby taxation for example remains a matter of national decision-making).
EU’s role in the relocation of multinationals – 15 December
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Joao Ferreira (GUE-NGL/POR) with regard to EU’s role in the relocation of multinationals. In his question, Mr. Ferreira refers to the relocation of multinationals from Southern to Eastern Europe, and asks the Commission what role the EU plays in the “restructuration” of multinationals’ businesses, and what justification can there be for directly and indirectly promoting competition between Member States and “pushing through a general drop in wages and a fall in taxes on the profits made by multinationals”. In her reply, Commissioner Thyssen (for employment and social affairs) emphasises that concern for social issues underpins Commission’s actions, and furthermore the Commission is currently actively working to address issues of tax evasion and avoidance.
Commission criteria for identifying unlawful state aid – 18 December
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Bernd Lucke (ECR/GER) with regard to criteria for identifying unlawful state aid. In his question, Mr. Lucke asked the Commission to elaborate what criteria it is using in its state aid rulings to determine whether a country is providing state aid or exercising its tax sovereignty. In her reply, Commissioner Vestager emphasises that direct taxation remains a competence of Member States, but the exercise of sovereignty must be in accordance with EU law. If taxation constitutes a distortion to competition in the case of favourable tax treatment for example, this can be seen as constituting state aid.
Impact of the tax on financial transactions – 21 December
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Pablo Zalba Bidegain (EPP/ESP) with regard to the potential impacts of the financial transactions tax (FTT). In his question, Mr. Zalba Bidegain asks the Commission whether it has assessed the potential impacts of different treatment for transactions directly relating to corporate hedging in the real economy. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici underlines that the Commission’s proposal does not provide for a “definition of hedging activities” as against speculative transactions, and reminds that areas such as day-to-day financial activities of ordinary citizens or companies, certain investment banking activities as well as spot currency transactions remain out of the scope of the FTT.
The future Netherlands, Slovak and Maltese Presidencies – 11 December
The Council of the EU has published the latest Strategic Agenda covering the periods of the next three six-month Council Presidencies – that of the Dutch, the Slovaks and Maltese. The purpose of the document is to provide a strategic dimension to the Presidencies’ priorities, and to ensure that there is some coordination and coherence in work programmes as the rotating presidencies change. This particular Strategic Agenda brings up several tax related items, including a gradual shift of tax burden away from labour, social fairness in taxation, fighting against tax evasion and avoidance, preventing BEPS, to improve exchange of information in tax matters, to advance the anticipated proposal to establish a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), to follow up on the anticipated anti-BEPS package (27 January), and to consider the Action Plan for an efficient and fraud-proof definitive VAT regime. The Strategic Agenda is broad and non-specific on wording and timelines, but does provide some indications as to how the work and priorities of the Council in the next 18 months can be anticipated to develop.
Programme of the Netherlands Presidency of the Council of the European Union – 7 January
On a similar note, the Netherlands has published a Work Programme outlining its priorities for the next six months. Of particular interest, the programme notably prioritises addressing tax avoidance and evasion but largely in line with the OECD BEPS recommendations, indicates the Presidency’s intention to continue discussions on the inclusion of a minimum effective taxation clause in the Interest and Royalties Directive, and to address anticipated Commission proposals in the area of more effective and fraud-proof VAT as well as VAT in the context of the Digital Single Market (DSM).
EU Finance Ministers discuss VAT fraud – 15 January
During the Ecofin Council meeting in mid-January, EU Ministers of Finance notably discussed VAT fraud. The discussion took place at the request of Czech Republic, which emphasised the need to transcend the current focus on corporate tax and pay more attention to VAT fraud. The Czechs maintain that the reverse-change mechanism is the best way of addressing VAT fraud, and with this in mind inquired about the possibility of conducting a pilot study to assess the pros and cons of such a scheme and that could be used for a future definitive VAT system. The European Commission stated for the occasion that it is not in principle opposed to a reverse charge mechanism, and several Member States expressed their support for a pilot study. In terms of next steps, the Finance Ministers are likely to further discuss VAT fraud in April, following the publication of the European Commission’s VAT Action Plan currently anticipated for 8 March.
“Italy Extends Reduced VAT Rate to all Digital Publications” – 8 January
According to Tax News, a new Italian budgetary law that entered into force on 1 January has extended a 4% reduced VAT rate to cover all forms of digital publications and not only e-books. The provision includes publications such as newspapers, books and periodicals issued electronically and having an IBSN or ISSN. The standard VAT rate otherwise applicable would have been 22%.
“HMRC admits to winding up inquiry into HSBC tax evasion claims” – 13 January
According to the Guardian, the British HMRC has ended its investigations into the alleged case of British clients using HSBC’s Swiss branch for tax evasion. The statement came during a UK parliamentary hearing of the public accounts committee, where HMRC representatives confirmed that the investigations have failed to generate even one prosecution against the bank. HSBC itself has admitted the practice, but claims to have changed its ways since.
“ECB warns Poland on new bank tax” – 15 January
According to Tax News, the European Central Bank (ECB) has issued a warning to the Polish Government, arguing that Poland’s planned bank tax could have negative effects on issuing credit and on overall financial stability. With this in mind, ECB urged the tax scheme to be thoroughly analysed before entering into force. The scheme would require certain financial and insurance institutions to pay a monthly tax amounting to roughly 0,037% of the value of the institution’s assets, and forms an integral part of the new Polish Government’s plans to boost public spending especially in social sectors.
“Gulf States finalizing Plans for VAT from 2018” – 19 January
According to Tax News, UAE’s Deputy Ministry of Finance has announced that member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are close to a deal introducing VAT systems in the whole bloc by 2018. Previous efforts to introduce a VAT across all the GCC countries have produced weak results, in part due to differing willingness between the member states to opt for such a scheme. As a first step, each country would introduce its own VAT regime by 2018, but discussions on a more unified approach may take place at a later stage.
“Switzerland to sign Multilateral Pact on CbC Reports” – 21 January
According to Tax News, Switzerland will be joining several other countries in Paris on 27 January to sign a Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement on the Exchange of Country-by-Country (CBC) Reports. The purpose of the multilateral agreement will be to establish the conditions under which the signatory countries’ tax authorities will exchange CBC information on multinationals on their territories on an automatic basis. The Swiss Federal Council gave its green light for signing the agreement on 20 January.
Commission opens in-depth investigation into UK public support for Drax power plant – 5 January
The European Commission has initiated an in-depth investigation into UK plans with regard to the Drax coal power plant. The Commission will in particular assess whether plans to support the plant’s conversion to operate on biomass are in breach of EU state aid rules. The investigation will notably assess whether the public funds used to support the project are focused on “what is necessary”, and not result in “overcompensation”.
Consultation on the Notice on a Simplified Procedure for the Treatment of Certain Types of Aid – 6 January
The European Commission has initiated a public consultation on the Simplified Procedure Notice (SPN) for the treatment of certain types of state aid. The consultation will invite stakeholders to indicate whether to repeal or revise the SPN. The overall objective will be to ensure “coherence and consistency” of the various state aid framework instruments and to assess the implementation and effectiveness of the SPN. The deadline of the consultation is 6 April.
Commission concludes Belgian “Excess Profit” tax scheme illegal – 11 January
The European Commission has assessed that Belgium’s “excess profit” tax scheme and the selective tax advantages it grants are in violation of EU state aid provisions. At least 35 multinationals mainly from the EU have benefitted from the scheme, and they will be required to return unpaid taxes to Belgium for a total value amounting to €700 million. The scheme is no longer in use, but the Commission decision concerns companies that have already benefitted from it since its implementation in 2005. As reported notably by Tax News, Belgium has not ruled out the possibility of an appeal.
Civil society organisations react to Commission’s state aid decision on Belgium – 11/12 January
Civil society organisations have reacted to the European Commission’s ruling with regard to Belgium’s “excess profit” scheme (see above). Eurodad criticises the Commission for focusing on symptoms rather than curing the disease, for which it considers that greater tax transparency and in particular public Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR) is necessary. Transparency International for its part describes the decision as “an important step in exposing corporations’ opaque tax planning practices and European governments’ secret deals with multinationals”, but emphasises that this does not go far enough towards a “lasting solution”. Transparency International consequently calls for mandatory and public CBCR to be introduced.
“US Treasury Urged To Act On EU Tax Ruling Probes” – 18 January
According to Tax News, a group of members of the US Senate’s Finance Committee have expressed concerns that EU’s state aid investigations risk leading to retroactive taxation and thereby have negative effects on US-based companies. The Senators expressed their sentiments in a letter to the US Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew. They call on the US Treasury to “intensify efforts to caution the Commission” against retroactive measures that may be inconsistent with international standards and US views.
Commission orders Belgium to recover €211 million from several steel companies within the Duferco group – 20 January
In another state aid ruling concerning Belgium, the Commission has concluded that €211 million funding granted by the Walloon region to several steel companies of the Duferco group between 2006 and 2011 constituted distortions to competition and are consequently a violation of EU state aid provisions. The Commission finds that the public support granted a selective advantage to the concerned steel companies over their competitors who did not received similar subsidies. EU state aid rules only allow support to viable steel companies and with the purpose of restoring their competitiveness. Belgium will have to recover the granted aid.
Commission opens in-depth investigation into Italian support for steel producer Ilva in Taranto, Italy – 20 January
The European Commission has initiated an in-depth investigation into state aid granted by Italy to the steel company Ilva. The Commission will assess in particular whether the granted support has generated an unfair advantage not available to the company’s competitors. The range of state aid measures granted to the company may amount to a total of €2 billion.
Commission adopts three decisions requiring taxation of ports in the Netherlands, Belgium and France – 21 January
The European Commission has adopted three decisions concerning the taxation of ports in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The Commission feels that the countries’ tax treatment of their seaports constitutes illegal state aid. In the Dutch case, the Commission has required the Netherlands to put an end to a corporate tax exemption it has been granting to its six seaports. Moreover, the Commission has urged France and Belgium to align their taxation of ports. All three countries have two months to react to the decisions and implement requested changes.
Business Europe response to the CCCTB consultation – 7 January
Business Europe has published its response to the European Commission’s public consultation on a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB). Of particular interest, the organisation notably expresses scepticism over the Commission’s planned two-staged approach for the proposal anticipated for September, calls for an optional common base, highlights the complexity of addressing the debt-equity bias and selects Allowance for Corporate Equity (ACE) as the most suitable option for dealing with the issue.
S&D Group position: “Member states must act with determination for a fairer tax system in Europe” – 11 January
MEPs of the European Parliament’s center-Left S&D group have applauded recent European Commission’s state aid decisions. They welcome the signal sent by the Commission to Member States and companies that “some fiscal engineering practices are illegal and counter-productive”.
“Mexico’s Sugary Drinks Tax Working, Report Says” – 12 January
According to Tax News, a report published by the medical journal BMJ the tax on sugary drinks implemented in Mexico has reduced the consumption of such beverages by 6% since 2014. The measure was introduced in January 2014 in order to reduce the consumption of sugary in a country struggling with alarming rates of obesity.
Petition calling for public Country-by-Country Reporting – 13 January
The NGO Tax Justice Network reports on a new petition organised by a group of EU trade unions that calls for the introduction of Union-wide public Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR). The petition has so far gathered almost 8000 signatures.
“Tax Justice Lëtzebuerg (Luxembourg) launched” – 13 January
A new Tax Justice Collectif has been established in Luxembourg as a reaction to the revelations of the Luxleaks scandal. The purpose of the group is notably to analyse tax justice issues on a global as well as Luxembourgish level, cooperate with entities and individuals wishing to foster tax justice, including whistleblowers, and to contribute to public debates on the issue.
“62 people own same as half the world – EU needs to take action against tax havens” – 18 January”
Oxfam has published a report notably demonstrating that the richest 62 individuals in the world own as much as the poorest 50% of humanity. According to Oxfam, one key factor behind this trend is a decreasing share of the national economy going to workers. The report and its findings are likely to find their way to tax fairness debates at EU-level.
“Europe must impose withholding taxes on payments, to target U.S. and other tax havens” – 22 January
The Tax Justice Network is calling for an EU withholding tax on payments in order to “target US and other tax havens”. The NGO refers in particular to a similar withholding tax imposed by the US on jurisdictions that fall behind in new tax transparency standards, and calls for European decision makers to follow the example.
28/01/2016, 7th Annual European E-Commerce Conference, Forum-Europe, 09:30-18:00, Brussels.
28/01/2016, Advisory European Fiscal Board and Network of National Fiscal Councils: Friends or foes?, CEPS, 13:15-14:30, Brussels.
02/02/2016, 2015 EBF Tax Conference, European Banking Federation, 09:30-17:30, Brussels.
18/02/2016, Time for Action! How the Commission’s Action Plan will shape VAT in Europe, Federation of European Accountants – FEE, 10:00-14:00, Brussels.
18/02/2016, No taxes, no development: Ways to a just taxation of multinational corporations, FES et al., 09:00-17:30, Berlin.
9-11/03/2016, Global Tax Policy Conference, Irish Tax Institute and Ash Center (Harvard Kennedy School), Dublin.
18/04/2016, Reforming regulation of professions: results of mutual evaluation and way forward, European Commission, Brussels.
09/2016, Bruegel Annual Meetings, Bruegel, Brussels.