- G20 discusses action to address non-cooperative jurisdictions – 15 April
- Joint TAXE II, JURI and ECON Committee hearing on public CBCR – 20 April
- Finance Ministers discuss tax, Panama Papers and an EU approach – 22/23 April
Environmental taxes in the EU-Environmental taxes made up 6.3% of tax revenues in the EU in 2014-Taxes on energy contributed most in all Member States – 22 April
Eurostat has published new statistics on environmental taxes in the EU. In monetary terms, in 2014 environmental taxes amounted to a total of €343.6 billion, in comparison to €282 billion ten years prior to that. However, for the same period the share of environmental taxes from all tax and social contribution revenues fell from 6,8% in 2004 to 6,3% in 2014.
TAXE II Committee holds public hearing with representatives of national Parliaments – 18 April
The TAXE II Committee of the European Parliament has held a public hearing with representatives of Member States’ national parliaments to exchange views on the tax agenda. During the discussion, MEPs and the national parliament representatives in particular agreed that tax abuse is a threat to fair competition and SMEs in particular. A number of representatives also emphasised the importance of business-friendly and consistent tax environments as a crucial element to growth in Europe; the need for greater tax policy coordination in particular on BEPS implementation, whilst finding an appropriate balance between EU-level action and the need to respect national sovereignty on tax; the importance of the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), although here representatives expressed some differing views as to whether the anticipated two-step approach is appropriate or not; and finally, the need for greater transparency and better exchange of information between jurisdictions. The need to find common solutions to address “tax havens” was also brought up by several MEPs and national parliamentaries, especially with reference to the Panama Papers scandal.
Amendments to the European Parliament ATAD opinion released – 18 April
The amendments to the European Parliament ECON Committee’s opinion report on the Commission’s proposed Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (ATAD) have been published. Although the European Parliament opinion is legally non-binding, the amendments provide indications as to the general feelings of various MEPs and political Groups on key tax topics. the lead rapporteur for the dossier is the MEP Hugues Bayet (S&D/BEL).
With regard to tax advisors, the MEP Neena Gill (S&D/UK) calls for amending the Audit Regulation in order to “properly tackle” potential conflicts of interest in audit companies providing tax advice. Paul Tang (S&D/NLD) in turn proposes in his amendment that tax advisors that help companies create “non-genuine arrangements” should be sanctioned both at the level of individual advisors and of the advisory firm.
In terms of other amendments, many criticise the lack of an impact assessment by the Commission on the ATAD’s provisions, especially those going beyond the OECD BEPS recommendations; highlight the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) as a strong solution to address profit shifting and transfer pricing abuse in the EU; call for caution and bearing in mind the need to maintain a business-friendly tax framework (especially from MEPs from the Christian-democratic EPP and liberal ALDE Groups); and emphasise the need to ensure a proper resourcing of national tax authorities.
Joint TAXE II, JURI and ECON Committee hearing on public CBCR – 20 April
The European Parliament held a joint public hearing with Commissioner Hill on Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR). The hearing was co-organized by ECON, TAXE II and JURI Committees, but the CBCR report will fall under the discrepancy of JURI (responsible for company law matters). Overall, MEPs are pushing for more ambitious measures and quick action particularly on the blacklist of non-cooperative jurisdictions. In particular, they asked to proceed with public CBCR on a worldwide basis and not only for “tax havens”, and to lower the threshold on groups’ revenue below the one proposed by OECD (€750 millions). Interestingly, Jeppe Kofod (S&D/DEN) asked to create a blacklist with all jurisdictions until they prove they are cooperative. Sven Giegold (Greens-EFA/GER) commented that the current proposal – including partial CBCR provisions on “tax havens” – will have an even further negative impact to the European industry as it will be obvious which companies are investing in Europe. Roberto Gualtieri (S&D/ITA, ECON Chair) was negative about not including banks in the scope. Commissioner Hill replied that the Commission’s current approach is already “very bold”. He referred to the results of the impact assessment and explained that additional measures would lead to competitive disadvantages for European companies. When asked about the individuals involved in the Panama leaks and how the Commission will react, he replied that this proposal is only the beginning of the discussions. Several MEPs, especially Heidi Hautala (Greens-EFA/FIN), commented that the Commission has not set a deadline for drafting the blacklist and asked whether it will be prepared in due time. On this, Commissioner Hill avoided to give a specific reply, but he commented that Commissioner Moscovici has engaged to a 6 month plan. He moreover stated that the Commission will be looking into the role of “financial advisors”, without giving any indications on content or timelines.
TAXE II Committee publishes studies, including on tax advisory services, and organises a workshop – 25/28 April
The TAXE II Committee of the European Parliament is to publish four studies on tax issues in the EU, as a support to its ongoing investigative work. The first study is titled The Future of Tax Rulings within the EU, and will discuss the current situation and future challenges in the area of tax rulings, as the name implies. The second study will assess whether the EU is taking correct steps for tax reform notably through its recent proposals on public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) as well as the Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (ATAD). It is titled The Anti-Tax Avoidance Proposals and Public Disclosure of Tax Information: Is the EU Moving in the Right Direction. The third study for its part looks into the state aid investigations from a tax perspective, titled State Aid Recovery: Its Limits As An Anti Tax Avoidance Measure. And finally, the fourth study which has been published already focuses on tax planning and measures to counter certain “aggressive tax planning” practices undertaken by companies and adviced by tax consultants across sectors (banking, lawyers, accountants). It is titled The Role of the Financial Sector in Tax Planning. A workshop took place on 28 April, during which the preparers of each of the studies summarised their main conclusions and recommendations. The studies have no direct impact, legislative or otherwise, but they will impact the European Parliament’s thinking on the topics covered.
Of specific interest, the already published fourth study on tax planning puts forward a number of recommendations in order to disincentivise the provision and use of “aggressive tax planning” advice. In particular, the study recommends that tax legislation should be less complex and rules-based; that contingency fees for tax advisors based on the amount of tax savings should be banned; that Governments should implement enforceable Codes of Conduct and sanctions (professional and criminal), rather than relying on self-regulation; that the presence of tax advisors in EU advisory bodies such as the Platform for Tax Good Governance poses potential conflicts of interest that must be addressed; and that individual members of the financial services sector, including accountants, must report on activities that may relate to “aggressive tax planning”.
ECON Committee votes for opinion on CBCR between tax administrations – 26 April
The ECON Committee of the European Parliament has voted on its draft opinion on the Commission proposal for Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) for tax administrations, as part of the Administrative Cooperation Directive. In their opinion, the Committee MEPs request for a more active and greater involvement of the Commission, arguing that it should have full access to the CBCR information exchanged between tax administrations. Moreover, the MEPs call for sanctions on multinationals that fail to file their CBC report. In terms of next steps, the Plenary will vote on the draft opinion on 12 May. In parallel, the Council has already reached an agreement on the Commission proposal, and will have no obligation to take the Parliament’s suggestions into account.
MEP Questions & Answers
Taxation in Greece – 14 April
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Manolis Kefalogiannis (EPP/GRE) with regard to taxation in Greece. In his question, Mr. Kefalogiannis argues with reference to the Laffer Curve that under certain circumstances lower tax rates increase tax revenue. He points out that despite tax hikes as part of the Greek Memorandum of Understanding, the tax revenue in Greece has dropped sharply in the past few years. He consequently asks the Commission why it insists on calling for higher taxes on Greek citizens. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici states that the Greek tax to GDP ratio in 2014 was 35,1%, well below an EU average of 39,2%. He moreover confirms that the Commission does not agree that the fall in tax revenue in Greece would be due to increased taxation in the country.
Tax avoidance by natural monopolies in the energy sector – 15 April
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEPs Liisa Jaakonsaari (S&D/FIN) and Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (S&D/FIN) with regard to tax avoidance by natural energy monopolies. In their question, the MEPs refer to a case in Finland where a company with a 20% market share in electricity distribution and services is employing offshore structures to avoid its tax obligations. The MEPs consequently ask the Commission how it will address the issue, in the absence of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB). In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici states that the proposed Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive together with the anticipated CCCTB would, if approved, address the practices described by the MEPs. The Commission is moreover monitoring potential state aid breaches from a tax perspective, and will take action if non-compliance is suspected.
Tax and tackling obesity – 15 April
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Claude Rolin (EPP/BEL) with regard to obesity taxes. In his question, Mr. Rolin asks the Commission whether it will use taxation as a tool to tackle obesity and improve nutrition in the EU, and in particular a special VAT rate for healthy foods, including a zero rate for fruit, vegetables and water. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici refers to an earlier reply to a similar question provided by Commissioner Andriukaitis (health and food safety), in which he lists a number of EU programmes and initiatives aiming to promote healthier lifestyles in the EU. He however emphasises that taxation is one tool out of many possible ones to address consumption habits, and that Member States already have the option of applying a lower tax rate on fresh fruit and vegetables. He moreover confirms that the Commission’s VAT Action Plan will give Member States greater flexibility in the application of VAT rates.
Tax-related competition investigations – 21 April
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Fabio De Masi (GUE-NGL/GER) with regard to state aid investigations and tax. In his question, Mr. De Masi refers to accusations by US authorities that the EU is selectively targeting US companies in its state aid procedures. He asks the Commission whether it believes that its state aid procedures will be politically or legally challenged by the US, whether the Commission has received additional resources to conduct its state aid investigations, and how many full-time staff will be working on state aid investigations after the ongoing re-structuring in DG Competition. In her reply, Commissioner Vestager states that the Commission’s Task Force on Tax Planning Practices, established in 2013, employs between 15 and 25 officials, and insists that the Commission has sufficient resources and expertise to make high quality assessments. Sometimes prioritisation is necessary, but Commissioner Vestager maintains that the state aid investigations are not selectively targeting US companies. She refers to the Fiat decision from October 2015 as well as the January 2016 Commission decision with regard to the Belgian excess profits scheme, which concerns mainly European companies.
Finance Ministers discuss tax, Panama Papers and an EU approach – 22/23 April
EU Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) have discussed a common EU approach to the Panama Papers revelations. Of particular interest, the Ministers agreed on the need to establish an EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions by the summer, as well as to exchange information on shell companies’ ownership. Of additional interest, Wolfgang Schäuble expressed criticism on public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR), calling for caution. On the other side of the table, UK and France are within the group of countries more open to public disclosure. Finally, the Finance Ministers discussed and acknowledged the need to consider measures to “disincentivise” the provision of tax advice contributing to “elaborate tax evasion schemes”. The Commission will take follow-up action on this.
Court of Justice of the EU
Commission refers Germany to Court for failing to amend VAT rules for travel agents – 28 April
The European Commission will refer Germany to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) due to its failure to “properly apply” the special VAT scheme for travel agents in accordance with the relevant provisions of the VAT Directive. CJEU jurisprudence stipulates that the scheme should apply to travel agents dealing with all types of clients, including businesses. The German provision currently limits the scheme to travel services provided to private users.
G20 discusses action to address non-cooperative jurisdictions – 15 April
G20 Finance Ministers have endorsed plans to rip away the shield of secrecy for companies and individuals stocking assets offshore behind anonymous companies. In particular, the plan proposes for financial centers and jurisdictions to commit to an international standard requiring the exchange of information about account holders. Defensive measures on non-cooperative jurisdictions will be considered by the G20. The UK, Germany, Spain, France and Italy are also in favour a blacklist of havens if they fail to share corporate registry data – this is to be considered by the G20. China and the US put up the most resistance to the tax-related part of the G-20 statement.
G20 stated that it would work with the OECD to come up with criteria for identifying “non-cooperative jurisdictions” by July, adding that improving the transparency on who controls legal tax entities is vital to the international financial system. The statement also refers to a global standard developed by the OECD and endorsed by the G20. The standard calls on tax jurisdictions to share information on an annual basis about their banking systems, including the names and tax identification numbers of account holders. As per practice, the European Commission was also present at the discussions and it remains to be seen how this will affect EU’s own talks on a European blacklist of non-cooperative jurisdictions.
“Panama Papers: George Osborne calls for international blacklist of tax havens” – 16 April
According to City A.M., George Osborne has called for the establishment of an international blacklist of tax havens. His proposal would include UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies as well. He called specifically on the OECD. Sanctions against countries that enable or facilitate tax evasion should be introduced as well, according to Mr. Osborne.
“Panama Papers: US launches criminal inquiry into tax avoidance claims” – 19 April
According to the Guardian, the US Department of Justice has opened criminal investigations as a result of the tax optimisation structures revealed by the Panama Papers leak. The relevant authorities have contacted the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to ask for further information on the Panama leaks to aid the investigations.
“Italy Said to Consider Tobin Tax Freeze to Aid Bank Industry” – 26 April
According to Bloomberg, Italy is considering to suspend a financial transactions levy introduced three years ago. The purpose would be to strengthen the country’s banking sector. To what degree such a move would impact Italy’s position and work in the context of the enhanced cooperation for a European Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) remains to be seen.
“International Support For Beneficial Ownership Info Exchange” – 27 April
According to Tax News, over 20 jurisdictions have committed to a pilot project on exchange of information from beneficial ownership and trusts registers. The jurisdictions that have agreed to participate in the project include the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Montserrat, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Latvia, Croatia, Belgium, Ireland, Slovenia, Denmark, Malta, Lithuania, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Portugal, Estonia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.
International organisations establish Platform for Collaboration on Tax – 19 April
The IMF, OECD, the United Nations and the World Bank Group have committed to work together and cooperate more on the global tax agenda in the form of a Platform for Collaboration on Tax. The Platform will establish regular dialogue between the organisations with the view of implementing common standards for international tax matters, strengthen their ability to provide capacity-building support, enable the development of joint guidance, and improve sharing of information and knowledge. The Platform will in the first instance put forward toolkits to help developing countries implement BEPS recommendations amongst other international tax measures.
Joint statement on the fight against illicit financial flows, by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and Thabo Mbeki, Chair of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa – 19 April
The OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria and the Chair of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows, Thabo Mbeki, have issued a joint statement regarding illicit financial flows (IFFS). The statement declares that there is “an urgent need” to tackle tax evasion, money-laundering and bribery, and commits to ensuring that African countries can benefit from the current international trends towards greater transparency.
Bermuda joins agreement to automatically share BEPS country-by-country reports – 20 April
Bermuda has signed the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement for the exchange of Country by Country Reports (CbC MCAA). It is thus the 33rd jurisdiction to join the framework. The CbC MCAA requires the tax administrations of signatory jurisdictions to exchange aggregated information on multinationals’ business activities, income and other relevant tax information.
OECD Forum on Tax Administration – plenary meeting – 20 April
The OECD Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) will hold its next meeting in Beijing, China, on 11-13 May. The focus of the meeting will be on discussing the role of tax administrations in the implementing OECD/G20 recommendations and commitments in the area of international tax.
Public comments received on discussion draft on treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds – 22 April
OECD has published the results of its public consultation regarding the treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds (see FEE Tax Policy Update from 1 April). The consultation relates to the BEPS Action 6 which committed the OECD to continue examining issues related to the treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds. The consultation included questions on how the new BEPS Action 6 provisions could affect the treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds, and how any concerns in this area could be subsequently addressed. The consultation received comments from over 40 organisations and companies. The relevant OECD Working Party will discuss the results of the consultation in May.
“Five ways the European Commission can go further to combat tax avoision” – 15 April
Fraser Simpson has written an article on the Accountancy Age where he analyses recent Commission proposals in the area of tax, and provides insights into how the Commission could improve its work in the area. In particular, he lists five measures for the Commission to take in order to boost its efforts. These include gaining access to the Panama Papers data, focusing on OECD BEPS implementation, cooperating better with tax authorities at a global level, improving disclosure facilities, and finally reducing the currently proposed CBCR threshold down from €750 million.
“The Panama Papers reveal the sad state of U.S. corporate data transparency laws” – 15 April
Joshua New (policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation) argues that the Panama Papers have demonstrated the dubious and non-transparent nature of the US tax system. He claims that the fact that so few US citizens have so far been affected by the leaks demonstrates that tax payers have no need to use offshore structures to hide their money since ample secrecy is available in the US already. He consequently calls on the US Government to address the issue, and notably to ensure greater transparency of beneficial ownership.
“New tax rules for large European funds” – 24 April
According to the Financial Times (article only available to subscribers), the largest asset managers in the EU will be affected by the Commission proposal regarding public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) published earlier this month. The claim is based on assessment by PwC, which argues that the public information will be used by investors as well. A Tax Partner from PwC states that these asset managers are currently unprepared for the increased level of public exposure, and might lead to fund companies losing business.
“Study: ‘Fat tax’ made Denmark healthier” – 25 April
According to Euractiv, the fat tax that was briefly applied in Denmark back in 2011 had a visible impact on Danes’ consumption patterns and consequently may have contributed to saving lives. The claim is based on a research conducted jointly by the Universities of Oxford and Copenhagen, whose data demonstrates that Danes bought up to 4% less saturated fat, whilst consuming more vegetables. The tax was heavily criticised as ineffective when it was first implemented.
ICIJ to Release Panama Papers Offshore Companies Data – 26 April
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has announced that it will publish a database with information on offshore entities that are part of the Panama Papers leaks on 9 May. The database will enable searching for specific information and data through key words, and will according to ICIJ be the largest disclosure of information concerning secret offshore companies in history.
“US Accountants Urge Preservation Of Cash Accounting” – 27 April
According to Tax News, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has called on the US Senate to maintain cash accounting in tax. AICPA argues notably that cash accounting is simple to apply, has been used by the service industry for decades and that moving to the accrual method could increase the tax liability of businesses.
“When is a tax not a tax? When it’s a ‘Brexit tax’” – 27 April
An article published in ICAEW’s Economia and written by George Bull looks into the potential tax impact on the UK of a prospective Brexit. He points to a number of potential implications both in the direct tax and VAT areas, but maintains that ultimately the actual impact will depend on the terms of a British settlement with the EU. The UK will also lose influence over certain tax developments at the EU-level, including regarding the Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) as well as the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).
13/05/2016, Conference on Fiscal Policy, The Forum on Economic and Fiscal Policy, Amsterdam.
18/05/2016, Reforming regulation of professions: results of mutual evaluation and way forward, European Commission, Brussels.
07/06/2016, The priorities of the Slovak Republic Presidency of the Council, EPC, Brussels.
15/06/2016, 3rd Global Tax Policy Conference, Maastricht University, Maastricht.
09/2016, Bruegel Annual Meetings, Bruegel, Brussels.