EU plans tax transparency clampdown

MEPs hold up placards during vote of confidence in Nov 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker survived a vote of confidence last November

The European Commission has laid out plans to clamp down on so-called sweetheart tax deals between governments and multinationals.

The Tax Transparency Package proposes that European governments automatically exchange details of tax rulings to try to tackle "aggressive tax planning".

Each country would have to declare all its tax rulings every three months.

The move comes during ongoing investigations into a number of member states' tax regimes.

Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands have all been put under the spotlight.

Belgium's tax deals are also under scrutiny. The Commission is investigating whether the tax regimes of the EU nations amount to state aid.

Allegations also emerged last year that around 340 multinational companies had tax avoidance deals with Luxembourg.

Among the companies accused of signing "sweetheart deals" with Luxembourg to avoid billions in taxes in other countries were Pepsi, Amazon, Ikea, Microsoft, Disney, Skype and Fiat.

Tax package

The Commission's plans for tackling corporate tax avoidance involve a proposal for a new law on tax data-sharing.

"Everyone has to pay their fair share of tax," said Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

"This applies to multinationals as to everyone else. With today's proposal on the automatic exchange of information, tax authorities would be able to better identify loopholes or duplication of tax between member states."

The Commission is concerned that tax rulings which give a low level of taxation in one member state can entice companies to artificially shift profits there, leading to serious erosion of possible tax revenues for other member states.

While avoiding tax is not illegal, people are running out of patience with corporate tax avoidance, said Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs.

"Tolerance has reached rock-bottom for companies that avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and for the regimes that enable them to do this," Mr Moscovici said.

"We have to rebuild the link between where companies really make their profits, and where they are taxed," he added.

How the EU plans to clamp down on tax avoidance

  • Member states would have to hand over all cross-border tax rulings to other EU countries every three months
  • Currently, they share information if they consider it "relevant"
  • Domestic tax rulings would be exempt
  • No country could refuse any information on grounds of commercial secrecy or public policy
  • A member state could request more detailed information
  • All "sweetheart" tax rulings would now be known, under which profits were moved to lower-tax countries and to obscure holding companies that paid little or not tax

Source: European Commission tax avoidance proposals

Responding to the proposals, the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), which includes Britain's Conservatives, warned the Commission not to use the Luxleaks "saga" to push for tax harmonisation in the EU.

UK Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds praised the proposals but called for firms and advisers "that evade tax" to be blacklisted.

The new law will need to be agreed with member states before it can come into force, meaning the exact starting date of its provisions is not yet certain.

However, Mr Moscovici said he was hopeful a deal with national ministers could be struck before the end of this year, meaning the measures would be able to come into force for the start of 2016.

'State aid'

Corporations including Amazon, Apple, Fiat and Starbucks have been caught up in a Commission investigation into "aggressive tax planning" strategies.

Under European Union (EU) rules member states are not allowed to grant companies tax advantages that distort competition.

The Commission has been investigating the tax regimes of certain member states since June 2013, and widened the investigation to include all member states at the end of last year.

Eight months ago the Commission launched formal investigations into the tax paid by Apple in Ireland, Starbucks in the Netherlands and Fiat Finance in Luxembourg.

It launched a further investigation into Amazon's tax dealings in Luxembourg in October.

The investigations into Luxembourg's tax regime led to calls for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to be investigated over allegations he encouraged tax avoidance when he was prime minister of the country.

However, the tax scandal failed to gain traction in the European Parliament.

Mr Juncker survived a vote of confidence in the European Parliament last November, acknowledging he was politically responsible but denying he had encouraged tax avoidance.

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