Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

European Union states split over digital tax, fearing U.S. retaliation

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks on tax issues at a joint hearing with lawmakers of the economic affairs committee and the special committee on financial crime at the European Parliament in Strasbourg France EU tax on tech giants looks set to be delayed in defeat for Emmanuel Macron
Jean Garcia | 09 November, 2018, 00:52

Background: The European Commission proposed a plan for a temporary tax on the revenues of around 120 large tech companies in March 2018 due to concerns about fair taxation. The most ambitious plan would entail a tax on the turnover of digital firms imposed unilaterally by the European Union before a deal is reached at global level.

Austria, in turn, insisted on exclusion of the sale of users' data from the activities covered by the planned tax, a proposal which was supported by France, Italy and Spain.

The EU proposal is also meant to stop other countries going it alone with their own digital tax and creating a patchwork of schemes across the continent. "At the same time, we agree today that we will implement a revised Commission proposal on the taxation of digital services if, against our expectations, a broad worldwide consensus can not be reached by summer 2020", Scholtz said.

"This is a clear red line for the French government", Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister told reporters in Brussels as he prepared to discuss the issue with his European counterparts.

Given that this tax "is calibrated to reach out to the american companies, of course there will be a reaction of the Member States", he warned. The levy would apply on revenue from "targeted advertising" and "intermediation services", while the tax will be imposed on turnover, irrespective of profit or loss, and won't be connected to or "creditable".

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Some countries disagree over whether the "sale of user data" should also be taxed, according to an October 29 internal memo circulated to national governments.

Governments also disagree on whether the tax should have a fixed expiration date or a review clause linked to global developments, assuming that it's implemented as an interim measure.

In the run-up to Tuesday's meeting, some countries also expressed doubts about whether the initiative would violate existing treaties on avoiding double taxation.

"If we do nothing, the EU will be split up like a puzzle and our European businesses will be the first to suffer", EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told the ministers. The plan requires all 28 states to approve the measure, but a large number now oppose it, anxious about the technical complexity of the process and that the U.S., where most of the firms are headquartered, would retaliate with changes to its own tax structure.

"Several member states might introduce a tax nonetheless, and create serious distortions in the EU's single market" said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank.

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