Commission launches feasibility study on the development of an EU VAT web portal – 18 March
The European Commission has launched a consultation on the development of an EU VAT web portal. The web portal would provide a single access point for consulting VAT rules and procedures that apply across the EU. The development of the portal is based on a three-step approach. First, a VAT portal for the Mini-One-Stop-Shop (MOSS) was launched. Currently, the information in the MOSS portal is being updated and improved. As a last stage, the Commission intends to extend the portal gradually by adding new topics and to establish a comprehensive VAT portal. The questionnaire itself asks potential users of such an EU VAT web portal for views on the relevance of various VAT related topics in the portal as well as more practical questions on its usage and user-friendly functioning.
Commission public CBCR proposal leaked – 21 March
An early draft of the European Commission’s proposal on public Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR) has been widely and openly circulating within the press. As widely anticipated, the proposal takes the form of amending the Accounting Directive (2013/34/EU). It is currently scheduled to be published in mid-April. The proposal follows an impact assessment by the Commission which apparently demonstrated “no significant administrative burden” on multinationals. Moreover, there is according to the Commission no danger to EU competitiveness since large multinationals with activities in the EU would have the same disclosure requirements regardless of where their parent company is located.
Of particular interest, the information must be provided on a CBC basis only in the case of EU Member States, whilst with regard to non-EU jurisdictions only aggregated data must be disclosed. According to the Commission, this will avoid the risk of new tax conflicts and double taxation and limit any such effects to the EU area only, “where more efficient dispute resolution mechanisms are in place”. Moreover, the Directive states separately that the collective responsibility for compliance lies with members of the parent company’s management. The scope of the proposal is limited to multinationals with an annual turnover equal to or above €750 million (in line with BEPS Action 13).
Commission launches public consultation on business environment for start-ups – 31 March
The European Commission has launched a public consultation on improving the business environment for start-ups. Although the consultation has no specific focus on tax, it does cover to smaller degree tax-related issues such as costs of compliance and tax incentives for R&D. According to the Commission, the consultation’s aim will be to help identify solutions and design new policy and support measures at both EU and Member State levels in order to address start-ups’ needs throughout their life cycle. The deadline for providing responding is 30 June.
TAXE II Committee holds hearing with six large banks – 21 March
Six banks appeared in front of the European Parliament’s TAXE II Committee in a public hearing. The banks in question were Crédit Agricole, ING Group, Nordea, Santander, UBS and Unicredit. The hearing focused amongst other things on the tax services provided by the banks to their clients, as well as the banks’ corporate structures which the MEPs suspect are designed to minimise their tax obligations. The bank representatives argued that they do not provide tax services such as tax consulting and enabling the movement of wealth to “tax havens”. Moreover, the representatives stated that their experience with public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) which the banks are obliged to do under relevant provisions of the CRD IV have been broadly positive and non-disruptive. With this regard, some MEPs such as Jeppe Kofod (S&D/DEN) – the lead rapporteur for the Committee’s investigative report to be published in upcoming months – referred to the recent study by Oxfam and French civil society organisations on tax optimisation practices by large banks (see last Tax Policy Update). According to Mr. Kofod, the report demonstrates the positive usefulness of public CBCR in revealing tax optimisation practices by multinationals. On 4 April the TAXE II Committee will hold another public hearing with the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as with Commissioner Vestager who has been actively pursuing certain multinationals’ tax practices and rulings from a state aid perspective.
Irish vehicle registration tax – 17 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Martina Anderson (GUE-NGL/IRL) with regard to the Irish vehicle registration tax. In her question, Ms. Anderson states that Ireland levies a vehicle registration tax on vehicles loaned from abroad. She asks for the Commission’s views on the matter and whether it is considering any measures. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici argues that the Irish vehicle registration tax appears to be compatible with EU law as the law states that the vehicle may be used for 30 days before it has to be presented for registration. However, with regard to the use of leasing and rental vehicles the Commission has referred Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU.
CJEU annulment of ‘Spanish tax lease system’ penalty – 18 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Jose Blanco López (S&D/ESP) with regard to a decision by the General Court of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to cancel the Spanish tax lease system penalty. In his question, Mr. Blanco López states that Galicia has suffered economically from a Commission decision against a tax relief for vessels built in Spanish shipyards, a decision which the General Court subsequently cancelled in its ruling. He asks the Commission whether it will compensate for damages caused during the period between the Commission decision and the General Court ruling. In her reply, Commissioner Vestager states that the General Court’s ruling does not result in a clearance of the measures, and the Commission has in any case appealed the General Court’s ruling before the CJEU.
Tackling practices by letterbox companies – 18 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP David Casa (EPP/MAL) with regard to letterbox companies. In his question, Mr. Casa asks the Commission for the state of play of proposals that it put forward two years ago to tackle against “letterbox subsidiaries”, and whether it has had developments in its attempts to eliminate loopholes that enable the using of such entities. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici states that the Parent-Subsidiary Directive includes a common anti-abuse provision that partially addresses the issue. He furthermore refers to the recently published Anti-Tax Avoidance Package (ATAP) that should for its part also contribute to fighting against loopholes that currently enable practices as described by the MEP.
VAT fraud in the food industry – 18 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Jeppe Kofod (S&D/DEN) with regard to VAT fraud in the food industry. In his question, Mr. Kofod points to statistics demonstrating an increasing number of VAT fraud in Denmark’s food industry, and asks the Commission how it will address this form of fraud in its VAT Action Plan, and whether in line with the TAXE I Committee’s demands will establish stricter penalties and for tax and VAT fraud. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici lists measures and initiatives that the Commission has taken in the Eurofisc network context to address VAT fraud. He moreover confirms that the VAT Action Plan will “strengthen the VAT system”. With regard to penalties, Commissioner Moscovici confirms that the Commission will launch a study on the impact of national sanction systems on tax compliance.
Loss of fiscal revenue from the failure to tax online betting – 18 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Nikolaos Chountis (GUE-NGL/GRE) with regard to taxing online betting. In his question, Mr. Chountis regrets that online betting companies in Greece have been subject to low taxation due to licensing arrangements, even as other sectors and citizens are subject to tax hikes. He consequently asks the Commission why it has not asked Greek governments in past years to address the issue, whether the low taxation of online betting companies constitutes a breach of EU law, and what best practices exist on the taxation of online betting. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici states that there is no specific EU legislation for gambling services. Moreover, under the VAT Directive Member States are left with significant discretion on the VAT treatment of gambling activities. And finally, he acknowledges that there have been increasing efforts by EU Member States to regulate online betting, but the various models of taxing the sector have not been assessed by the Commission and is consequently not aware of best practices.
“No to excessive taxation imposed by EU governments on the working classes” – 21 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Sotirios Zarianopoulos (non-aligned/GRE) with regard to tax burden shifts in the EU. In his question, Mr. Zarianopoulos blames the EU and Member States for a tax shift away from corporate and other forms of business taxation towards property and consumption taxes that are more likely to affect working people. With particular reference to the Memorandum of Understanding that Greece is currently subject to, he asks the Commission to justify why the programme is conditional to easing the tax burden on businesses whilst imposing new burdens on the “working classes”. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici argues that the Commission is paying attention to social fairness and ensuring that burdens are adjusted on an equitable basis whilst protecting the most vulnerable. He moreover states that Commission’s own assessments have shown that if implemented properly, the reform programme will enable Greece to return to “stability and growth” coupled with social sustainability. He moreover points out that certain conditions of the programme also include efforts to improve tax compliance and to fight against tax evasion.
VAT fraud – 22 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Barbara Kappel (ENF/FRA) with regard to VAT fraud. In her question, Ms. Kappel refers to carousel fraud as well as the desire of the Czech Republic to apply the reverse charge mechanism nationally in order to tackle against it. She therefore asks the Commission what is its view with regard to the reverse charge model, and what alternatives it is planning. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici confirms that the Commission will address VAT fraud in its upcoming VAT Action Plan. In its dialogue with Member States, a number of options, including a generalised reverse charge mechanism, have been considered. The Commission however does not plan to put forward specific legislation for a sector-specific application of the reverse charge mechanism. In terms of alternatives, the Commissioner brings up the European Commission’s provision of technical assistance to Member States, the use of better IT tools, exchange of good practices and improving access to information.
Apple’s taxes – 23 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D/BEL) with regard to Apple’s taxes. In his question, Mr. Tarabella refers to data showing that Apple’s tax debt for the period of 2004-2012 could amount to as much as $8 billion. He asks for the Commission’s views on this information, and whether it plans to “fight for greater tax justice” instead of giving in to US concerns regarding retroactive penalties. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici states that the Commission has no data on Apple’s tax debt in the US, but reminds that the Commission is currently investigating Apple’s tax treatment in Ireland on state aid infringement grounds.
UK’s Google tax ruling and the Commission investigation – 23 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Catherine Bearder (ALDE/UK) with regard to the recent tax arrangement deal reached between Google and the UK HMRC. In her question, Ms. Bearder whether the Commission will launch an investigation into the tax deal between Google and the UK, and what other measures it plans to undertake in order to ensure that multinationals pay “a fair and comparable share” of tax in the EU. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici confirms that the Commission has received market information on the deal, and will later decide whether or not to launch an investigation. Moreover, he gives the Anti-Tax Avoidance Package (ATAP) as a recent example of Commission efforts to tackle tax optimisation by multinationals in the EU. Finally, Commissioner Moscovici states that the re-launch of the CCCTB planned for later this year will provide a “holistic solution” to “aggressive tax planning”. It would according to the Commissioner in particular eliminate tax schemes based on transfer pricing manipulation, due to its formula apportionment of assets, labour and sales.
Lack of data on tax revenue in the European Union – 24 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Sven Giegold (Greens-EFA/GER) with regard to EU data on tax revenues. In his question, Mr. Giegold states that in previous Eurostat statistics a number of useful data with regard to tax revenue across the EU were available, whilst for 2015 such data is no longer available. He consequently asks the Commission for the reasons for the lack of such data. In her reply, Commissioner Thyssen (employment and social affairs) acknowledges that the Commission has issued a reduced version of the 2015 tax trends report. She however confirms that the reduced report for 2015 is to be complemented by additional information published in 2016.
Cooperation and EU action to combat tax fraud – 30 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by the MEP Jérôme Lavrilleux (EPP/FRA) with regard to EU action against tax fraud. In his question, Mr. Lavrilleux what measures the Commission plans to undertake in order to improve cooperation between Member States on taxation, and to fight against tax fraud and tax havens broadly. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici refers to the Anti-Tax Avoidance Package (ATAP), the proposal on Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) as well as the upcoming re-launch of CCCTB as examples of Commission action in this field. With regard to VAT, Commissioner Moscovici re-iterates that the Commission will publish its VAT Action Plan that will also contribute to the fight against tax fraud.
Tax avoidance by multinationals in the digital sector – 30 March
The European Commission has replied to a question asked by two French ENF (far-Right) MEPs with regard to tax avoidance in the digital sector. In their question, the MEPs ask the Commission whether tax avoidance by multinationals has been made possible by the “removal of fiscal borders and free-trade agreements”, and whether it will assess the scale of lost tax revenue due to tax avoidance by multinationals in the digital sector specifically, and potential compensations required. In his reply, Commissioner Moscovici gives the Anti-Tax Avoidance Package (ATAP) and the upcoming re-launch of the CCCTB as examples of the Commission attempting to address these issues. He however states that the idea of compensations may not be apt to address the issue, given that the companies will be required to pay tax due in case of infringements anyway.
“UK’s Tax Roadmap Includes EC’s Anti Avoidance Proposals” – 22 March
According to Tax News, UK has published a Tax Roadmap in the context of launching its new budget for the upcoming year (see last Tax Policy Update). The roadmap notably sets out a number of measures aiming to tackle tax avoidance and “aggressive tax planning”. Two items in the roadmap relate to the European Commission’s proposed Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (ATAD); a framework on hybrid mismatches and revised rules on the deductibility of interest. Another anticipated measure in the roadmap includes strengthening the UK’s withholding tax framework on royalty payments.
“Canadian Budget Focuses On Tax Compliance” – 23 March
According to Tax News, the new budget of Canada’s new government will have particular focus on tackling tax avoidance and evasion, whilst also improving compliance and streamlining the tax credits regime. For this purpose, an additional €301 million will be invested in the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the next five years. The Government estimates that this will provide additional revenue of €1,7 billion for the same period. Additional funding will be provided to the CRA to assist it in tax debt collection. On the OECD BEPS side, new measures will be introduced notably to strengthen transfer pricing documentation, to implement Country by Country Reporting (CBCR), and to apply revised international guidance on transfer pricing, including an improved interpretation of the arm’s length principle.
“India Mulls Tax Challenges Facing Digital Economy” – 23 March
According to Tax News, the Central Board of Direct Taxes of India has published a report on possible ways to tackle new tax challenges in the digital economy. Despite an overall focus on the digital sphere, the report also focuses on issues such as tax neutrality between domestic and multinational companies, and allocation of taxing rights. Of additional interest, the report recommends an equalisation levy for payments on digital services and facilities.
“Wall Street pushes back on trading tax” – 23 March
According to The Hill, Wall Street stakeholders such as the Investment Company Institute (ICI) have gone on the offensive in their critique of Financial Transaction Taxes (FTT) that have been flaunted in different forms during the ongoing US Presidential campaigning, notably by Bernie Sanders and his main competitor for the Democratic nomination Hillary Clinton. These stakeholders argue that such a tax would be harmful for the competitiveness of the US economy and have harmful effects on all investors, including middle-class Americans saving for retirement.
“Switzerland Rejects Dutch Taxpayer Info Request” – 29 March
According to Tax News, the Federal Administrative Court of Switzerland has denied administrative assistance from Switzerland to the Dutch tax authorities in a case concerning the UBS bank. The Dutch tax authorities requested administrative assistance under a bilateral agreement between the two countries, but the Swiss court argued that the Dutch authorities failed to provide adequate details such as specific client names. Instead, the request provided criteria by which to identify specific clients of the bank.
“Sweden To Increase Banks’ Tax Burden” – 30 March
According to Tax News, Sweden is planning to put an end to the tax deductibility of subordinated debt, thereby in effect increasing the tax yield from its banking sector. The Swedish Government expects the abolition of the tax deductibility to better align the tax treatment of debt and equity, whilst it estimates the measure to generate additional annual tax revenue of €150 million.
Germany allows donations to foreign charities the same inheritance tax treatment as donations to German charities – 31 March
Germany has complied with a Commission request demanding it to treat non-German legacies to charities on an equal footing with German ones. In the past, German charities could enjoy from an exemption from inheritance tax not available to other EU and EEA charities, thus resulting in legacies to foreign charities being subject to heavier taxation. As a result of Germany’s compliance, Commission closed the infringement procedure on 25 February.
OECD releases standardised electronic format for the exchange of BEPS Country-by-Country Reports – 22 March
The OECD has published a standardised electronic format for the exchange of Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) information. The format is referred to as the CbC XML Schema, and is aimed at enabling a swift implementation of the BEPS recommendations with regard to CBCR. The relevant information will be collected by the country of residence of the Reporting Entity for the multinational group, and then exchanged under relevant international agreements on the exchange of information. As a reminder, the first CBCR exchanges will begin in 2018 and is to include information from the year 2016.
OECD releases BEPS consultation document on the treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds – 24 March
The OECD has opened a public consultation on the tax treaty entitlement of non-CIV funds (Collective Investment Vehicle). The consultation relates to the BEPS Action 6 which committed the OECD to continue examining issues related to the treaty entitlement of non-CIV fund. The consultation includes questions related to 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 deadline for providing responses to the consultation is 22 April.
“Call to shift global tax guardianship from OECD to UN” – 24 March
According to Public Finance International, Toby Quantrill (principal economic justice adviser) from ChristianAid has called for the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters to take a more active role in the global tax agenda. He gave these comments during a hearing of the UK House of Commons, and notably referred to the OECD as a rich countries’ club and as such has limitations in terms of how far it can go in reforming the international tax landscape.
“Dutch Ports Appeal Against EU Tax Ruling” – 30 March
According to Tax News, a number of Dutch ports have appealed against a Commission ruling from January which called for an end to preferential tax treatment of six Dutch ports, on grounds of breaching EU state aid rules (see Tax Policy Update from 22 January). The ports argue that other EU ports receive comparable public financial support in different forms, and consequently an end to their tax treatment could lead to a competitive disadvantage for the Dutch ports.
EY publishes global tax policy report for 2016 – 22 March
Ernst & Young (EY) has published its report on global tax policy for 2016. It provides data and an overview of global tax policy trends, and of particular interest on the rate of implementation of relevant BEPS recommendations. The report demonstrates that the EU is taking a fast and leading role in the implementation of various anti-BEPS measures, and provides data on a country-by-country basis on what implementing measures different jurisdictions have taken for example in the fields of transfer pricing and Country by Country Reporting (CBCR). Other findings of the report notably point towards a decrease in corporate income taxes across jurisdictions for 2016.
“EU referendum: how would Brexit change VAT and import duties?” – 22 March
As part of its “EU referendum panel”, the Guardian has published responses by four tax experts to a reader’s question concerning the potential impact of a Brexit on VAT and import duties. The question asks what would change in the case of a Brexit for a company that manufactures shoes in Spain. All experts reply that in the case of a Brexit the company in question would be subject to greater costs and compliance requirements.
Civil society organisations criticise leaked Commission proposals on public CBCR – 23 March
According to the Guardian, a number of civil society organisations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the leaked Commission proposal on public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR). As reported above, an early version of the Commission’s proposal anticipated for mid-April has been widely circulating within the press. Civil society organisations such as Transparency International and Eurodad criticise in particular the obligation to publish mere aggregated information for entities outside of the EU. Another point of contention relates to the threshold of €750 million which the organisations point out would only concern 10-15% of multinationals, and thereby argue is too low in scope.
“US Accountants Make Recommendations On CbC Reporting” – 24 March
According to Tax News, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has issued a letter with recommendations regarding non-public Country by Country Reporting (CBCR) to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In the letter, AICPA notably urges for the possibility of US companies to voluntary apply CBCR requirements for the 2016 tax year, and the IRS should make efforts to exchange these reports with third countries’ tax authorities. Moreover, the letter amongst other things also calls for a National Security Exception for the CBCR information.
ESMA publishes report on Enforcement and Regulatory Activities of Accounting Enforcers in 2015 – 29 March
The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has published its report on accounting enforcement in the EU for 2015. The report focuses on the application of and compliance with the IFRS across the EU, and puts forward recommendations to address identified limitations and to further improve intra-EU convergence of the application of the standards. From a tax perspective, the report in particular states that in total 10 enforcement actions were undertaken by European enforcers in order to improve compliance with the recognition of deferred tax assets emerging from tax losses.
“US companies warn tax avoidance crackdown will hit earnings” – 29 March
According to the Financial Times (article only available to subscribers), 136 US companies have warned investors of an increase in their tax obligations due to ongoing global efforts to fight against tax avoidance. According to these firms, their ensuing higher tax payments will affect their earnings. Almost a fifth of these companies are technology firms.