Category Archives: Taxes and Duties

Proposal for a European Financial Transactions Tax

Here it is at last: the debated proposal for a Directive on a common system of financial transaction tax. This type of tax was initially proposed by the economist James Tobin.

The idea is to tax a great number of financial instruments – including instruments which are negotiable on the capital market, money-market instruments (with the exception of instruments of payment), units or shares in collective investment undertakings (which include UCITS and alternative investment funds) and derivatives agreements. The tax rates will be set by Member States, but must not be less than 0.1% of the taxable amount in most cases.

According to the Commission the new tax will have progressive distributional effects, i.e. its impact will increase proportionately with income, as higher income groups benefit more from the services provided by the financial sector.

 

 

Commission Proposal for the New Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020

The Commission has put forward its proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union for the period 2014-2020. The Multiannual Financial Framework is the main budgeting document of the EU for the seven-year period, and little can be changed once it is adopted. The proposal has to be approved by the Member States and the Parliament.

The main innovations:

1. Expenses

  • A new fund for financing infrastructure, the Connecting Europe Facility that includes a preliminary list of transport, energy and ICT projects;
  • Stronger link of cohesion financing with the Europe 2020 objectives;
  • New category of ‘transition regions’;
  • New conditionality provisions;
  • Partnership contracts with each Member State to ensure mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding;
  • An integrated programme of €15.2 billion for education, training and youth, with a clear focus on developing skills and mobility;
  • A common EU strategy called “Horizon 2020″ for investment in research and innovation worth 80 billion €;
  • 30% of direct support to farmers will be conditional on “greening” their businesses;
  • €4.1 billion for the fight against crime and terrorism and €3.4 billion for migration and asylum policies.

2. Revenues

  • New own resources for financing the budget- a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) and a new modernized VAT;
  • Simplification of the existing correction mechanisms.

You can also read the critical assessment of the proposal by Charlemagne. Real Time Brussels looks at the fierce political battles that will likely emerge in the process of adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

 

Proposal for Reforming EU Trade Preferences

The Commission has put forward an important proposal for the reformation of the so-called Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) which grants specific tariff preferences to developing countries in the form of reduced or zero tariff rates or quotas.

Key elements of the proposal include:

1. Concentrating GSP preferences on fewer countries. A number of countries would no longer be eligible to benefit, including:

  • Countries which have achieved a high or upper middle income per capita, according to the internationally accepted World Bank classification (such as Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar).
  • Countries that have preferential access to the EU which is at least as good as under GSP – for example, under a Free Trade Agreement or a special autonomous trade regime.
  • A number of overseas countries and territories which have an alternative market access arrangement for developed markets.

2. Reinforcing the incentives for the respect of core human and labour rights, environmental and good governance standards through trade by facilitating access to the GSP+ scheme which grants additional, mostly duty-free preference to vulnerable countries.

3. Strengthen the effectiveness of the trade concessions for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) through the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) scheme.

4. Increasing predictability, transparency and stability.

Commission Proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base

UPDATE: There is a good analysis by four economists in VOX on the impact of the proposed reform. They conclude that it is unlikely that the introduction of the Consolidated Corporate Tax Base would bring significant benefits to the EU in aggregate in terms of employment, GDP or efficiency.

The plans for a common consolidated corporate tax base are not new. However, the Commission has now stepped forward to formally propose the text of a new directive that should introduce a common corporate tax base in the EU. This is one of the measures recently identified in the Pact for the Euro.

The proposal will allow companies that have business activities in different Member States to consolidate their financial results, and to offset the profits in one country against the losses in another, and pay taxes on the net amount only. This is supposed to decrease compliance costs especially for SMEs. However, a recent report by Earnest&Young shows that there will be an average increase of 13% in compliance costs. The report also showed that the impact of the CCCTB apportionment factors was to move taxable profit into Member States with higher tax rates, thus increasing the total tax burden. Some Member States are also opposed to the idea. Unanimity is needed in the Council for adopting such legislation.

The Pact for the Euro: a Summary

The heads of state and government of the еurozone Member States have adopted a new competitiveness pact, called “A Pact for the Euro”. The pact comes as a form of guarantee for Germany in order to increase the funds of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). You can read more about my concerns about the legality of such a pact here. An early assessment of the Pact for the Euro is available here.

The guiding rules of the Pact for the Euro:

  • It will be complementary to the existing instruments of economic governance in the EU;
  • It will concentrate on actions where the competence lies with the Member States. In the chosen policy areas common objectives will be agreed upon at the Heads of State or Government level;
  • Each year, concrete national commitments will be undertaken by each Head of State or Government;
  • The implementation of commitments and progress towards the common policy objectives will be monitored politically by the Heads of State or Government of the Euro area and participating countries on a yearly basis.

The goals of the Pact for the Euro:

  • Fostering competitiveness;
  • Fostering employment;
  • Contributing further to the sustainability of public finances;
  • Reinforcing financial stability.

The main policy instruments:

  • Monitoring and adjusting unit labour costs (ULC);
  • Removing unjustified restrictions on professional services and the retail sector;
  • Improving education systems and promote R&D, innovation and infrastructure;
  • Removing red tape and improving the regulatory framework (e.g. bankruptcy laws, commercial code);
  • Labour market reforms to promote “flexicurity”;
  • Tax reforms, such as lowering taxes on labour;
  • Aligning the pension system to the national demographic situation;
  • Putting in place national legislation for banking resolution;
  • Developing a common corporate tax base.

 

 

Looking for the Philosopher’s Stone of Economic Governance Coordination

France and Germany proposed a new way forward for the coordination of economic governance in the European Union. The proposal may be ambitious in scope, but is minimal on detail – the leaked document contains one (1) page only. So how to interpret this?

First of all I am really surprised by the mentoring attitude of Merkel and Sarkozy at the European Council meeting. Wall Street Journal quotes Yves Leterme, the Belgian prime minister:

“There were 18, 19 countries who spoke up to make known their regret on the way it was presented and also on the content. It was truly a surreal summit.”

This misstep will obviously diminish the chance for quick success of the negotiations. Apart from the tactics, however, I am much more interested in the emerging legal obstacles to any compromise. The problem is that too much EU law stands in the way of the proposal in its present form.

The scope of the proposed measures is huge – raising retirement ages across the euro zone, abolishing indexation of wages to inflation, harmonizing corporate and other taxes and instituting a “debt brake” that limits the ability of governments to borrow to fund their spending. Nevertheless, France and Germany seem to believe that this can be done without a proper reform of the Treaties, in some sort of Schengen-like legal framework.

First it’s worth investigating whether the proposals can be introduced as an enhanced cooperation (art. 326 – art. 334 TFEU). Such cooperation must not undermine the internal market or economic, social and territorial cohesion. It must not constitute a barrier to or discrimination in trade between Member States or distort competition between them (art. 326 TFEU). These legal restrictions must be interpreted carefully, and a program to raise the competitiveness of certain Member States may well violate them. An enhanced cooperation also involves a proposal by the Commission and the consent of the European Parliament. It’s approved by the Council with a unanimous vote (art. 329, para. 2 TFEU).

But another way forward may be a Schengen-like legal framework, initially external to EU law. In this case, however, I believe that it must also comply with the criteria set for enhanced cooperation – i.e. it should not undermine the internal market or economic, social and territorial cohesion, and it should not distort competition between Member States. These criteria will be difficult to meet provided that the very purpose of the measures is to improve the competitiveness of the participating Member States. Additionally, it looks like France and Germany do rely on the Commission and the European Systemic Risk Board to perform some functions in this new framework. I can’t imagine how this can be done without someone (for example, the UK), raising the question of the funding of such initiatives by the EU budget. The European Parliament could also have some objections to this.

The most likely (and the slowest) option is Treaty revision. It is also the most legitimate way forward (and maybe the only legal one). True, it would lead to a lot of bargaining and time loss, but it would also bring stability and legal security to this new framework.

Having said this, it’s obvious that some measures must be taken. It’s just that proposing measures without thinking about their legal ramifications is not a good sign for their success. After all, we are talking about unprecedented levels of economic governance coordination. Trying to circumvent Treaty reform may not work simply due to the scale of the proposals.

 

 

Customs: New Security Data Electronic Declaration from 2011

From 1 January 2011, traders are obliged to make an electronic declaration to Customs with security data on goods before they leave or enter the European Union. The type of security data requested from the traders varies according to the means of transport and the reliability of traders involved in the operation (see Annex 30a of Regulation (EEC) No 2454/93). It can include, for example, a description of the goods, information on the consignor or exporter, the route of the goods, and any potential hazards. The time limits for submitting advance security data also vary according to the means of transport: from 24 hours in advance of loading for maritime cargo to 1 hour before arrival for road traffic or even less for certain air transport.

Commission Initiatives on VAT and E-Invoicing

The European Commission has launched two important initiatives respectively on VAT and E-Invoicing.

On VAT the Commission has published a green paper aiming at a public consultation with stakeholders. The main questions:

  • What would be the most suitable VAT arrangements for intra-EU supplies? Is taxation in the Member State of origin still a relevant and achievable objective?
  • Which of the current VAT exemptions should no longer be kept? Should VAT be applied to passenger transport irrespective of the means of transport used?
  • Should the current exemption scheme for small businesses be reviewed and what should be the main elements of that reassessment?
  • What changes should be introduced to improve the neutrality and fairness of the rules on deduction of input VAT?
  • What are the main problems with the current VAT rules for international services, in terms of competition and tax neutrality or other factors?
  • Which, if any, provisions of EU VAT law should be laid down in a Council regulation instead of a directive? Might guidance on new EU VAT legislation be useful even if it is not legally binding on the Member States?
  • Do the current rates structure creates major obstacles for the smooth functioning of the single market (distortion of competition), unequal treatment of comparable products, or leads to major compliance costs for businesses?

The Commission communication “Reaping the benefits of electronic invoicing for Europe” notes that the existing rules that govern e-invoicing in Europe are still fragmented along national lines and most of the potential of e-invoicing is still untapped. The Commission wants to see e-invoicing become the predominant method of invoicing by 2020 in Europe and sets the following priorities:

  • to ensure legal certainty and a clear technical environment for e-invoices to facilitate mass adoption;
  • to encourage and promote the development of open and interoperable e-invoicing solutions based on a common standard, paying particular attention to the needs of SMEs;
  • to support the uptake of e-invoicing by setting up organisational structures, such as national e-Invoicing fora and a European Multi-Stakeholder Forum.

 

 

Financial Transactions Tax: the Commission Proposal

The Commission has proposed a two pronged approach for the future taxation of the financial sector. At global level, the Commission supports the idea of a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT). At EU level, the Commission recommends that a Financial Activities Tax (FAT).

Globally, estimated tax revenues from FTT would have been around EUR 60 billion for 2006 for stocks and bonds transactions assuming a tax rate of 0.1 %. According to the Commission the FTT would have to be levied on the broadest possible base to reach its efficiency goal.

In contrast to an FTT, whereby each financial market participant is taxed according to his transactions, the FAT taxes financial corporations and it falls on total profit and wages. For the EU-27, the addition-method FAT could raise up to EUR 25 billion.

The Bulgarian Problem of the European Union

The European Union has a big problem with Bulgaria, and may not know it. Here is why.

The purpose of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) is to investigate the ways in which young people are prepared to undertake their roles as citizens in a range of countries. The study includes all students enrolled in the grade that represents eight years of schooling, provided the mean age at the time of testing is at least 13.5 years. The results from the study are out, and they paint a bleak picture for Bulgaria.

But here I will focus on only one particular finding. Two thirds of eighth graders in Bulgaria may prefer to live permanently in another country. Two thirds of all young Bulgarians at the age of 13-14 that is.

Now, a lot can be said about the implications of this result for the overall demographic development in Bulgaria. The trouble is that even today Bulgaria is aging at a very fast pace. In fact UN data shows that in 2050 the overall dependency ration in Bulgaria will almost double from its 2010 levels. Population will decrease from 7,5 million to 5,4 million. But that is a conservative assessment based on current demographic trends and excluding serious migration movements out of the country. Yes, the intentions of 14-year olds are probably not the best indication of future demographic development, but they certainly give us a warning signal.

Let us not forget that only in a few years all labor restrictions for Bulgarians in the European Union will be lifted. Many EU countries are aging at a fast pace, and their labor markets will welcome Bulgarian migrants.

So far, so good. But these migrants will leave behind an almost dysfunctional pension system, a rapidly ageing society and bleak economic prospects for the young people remaining in Bulgaria. At that point Bulgaria can become a real problem for the European Union due to its failing budget, expansion of poverty (especially in old age groups and the Roma population), and not least – all kind of criminogenic social disturbances.

Obviously we cannot stop young Bulgarians from emigrating if they want to. What they need is sound education and good job prospects in Bulgaria. What they don’t need is escalating government costs, and hence – escalating taxes and social security contributions. Bulgaria finds it difficult at the moment to provide quality education to its children, and is, frankly speaking, quite incapable of developing a robust, sustainable economic system. That is why external help, and probably political pressure, are needed. The prospects for the Bulgarian economy are worsening by the day, and a lot must be done to convince our few children to stay at home.