The European Commission today unveiled a package of reforms aimed at tackling corporate tax avoidance by boosting transparency between Member States, revamping outdated laws, and implementing measures to ferret out multinational companies that aren’t paying their fair share.
The Tax Transparency Package is designed to help the 28 members of the bloc better protect their tax bases and ensure fair tax competition, using a multi-pronged approach. Central to the package is a legislative proposal to implement greater transparency between Member States on cross-border tax rulings. Currently, Member States have broad discretion to determine if a particular tax ruling is relevant to another country, resulting in very little sharing of information and a lack of awareness about tax rulings elsewhere that affect their own tax bases. The commission says certain companies are exploiting this lack of transparency to artificially reduce their tax bill.
The commission is proposing removing Member States’ discretion in this area, and instead requiring the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings. The proposal calls for national tax authorities to issue a brief report every three months to all Member States on any cross-border tax rulings. Member States would have the ability to request more detailed information on particular rulings.
In addition to helping uncover companies employing abusive tax practices, the proposal also would promote more level tax competition, the commission said. The commission contends that national tax authorities won’t be as quick to offer selective tax deals to individual companies if they know those deals will be scrutinized by their peers.
“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,” Pierre Moscovici, commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation, and Customs, said in a statement. “We have to rebuild the link between where companies really make their profits and where they are taxed. To do this, Member States need to open up and work together. That is what today’s Tax Transparency Package aims to achieve.”
Other measures in the package include:
Assessing whether new reporting requirements are needed for multinationals, including public disclosure of certain tax information. The commission said a specific proposal would be put forward only after assessments of the benefits and the impact of such a rule.
Reviewing the existing Code of Conduct on Business Taxation, which helps Member States determine whether a tax regime is harmful to competition and meets EU requirements. The commission said the code has become outdated because its criteria cannot handle highly complex corporate tax avoidance schemes. The commission also is proposing reviewing the mandate of the Code of Conduct Group.
Working with Eurostat to quantify the scale of tax evasion and avoidance, which the commission said has not been accomplished on a precise basis as opposed to estimates of the size of the problem. Concrete information about the scope and impact of the problem would be used to guide policy.
Scrapping the existing Savings Tax Directive because it is not as broad as proposed legislation calling for the automatic exchange of information on financial accounts, which includes savings-related income. Repealing the existing law would create a streamlined framework for the automatic information exchange and cut down on the administrative burden for tax authorities and businesses.
“Everyone has to pay their fair share of tax. This applies to multinationals as to everyone else,” Valdis Dombrovskis, commission vice president and commissioner in charge of the Euro and Social Dialogue, said in a statement. “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. In the coming months, we will put forward concrete actions to tackle such loopholes or overlaps. We are committed to following up on our promises with real, credible, and fair action.”
The European Commission is pushing an aggressive timetable for the package. The legislative proposals will be put to European Parliament and the European Council, the latter of which asked the commission in December to come up with a tax rulings transparency measure so no roadblocks are anticipated. The commission is hoping Member States will approve the transparency measure by the end of the year, with an implementation goal of January 2016.
The commission is calling for a broad review of corporate taxation rules, including re-launching the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) and updating the EU’s regime to fold in OECD and G20 measures on base erosion and profit shifting, all of which would be combined into a second action plan. This commission is aiming for the second action plan to be released before this summer.