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European Commission publishes tax information sharing proposals

The European Commission has unveiled new proposals to help identify corporate tax avoidance by the sharing more information between member states.20 Mar 2015

The Tax Transparency Package aims to ensure that member states have the information they need to protect their tax bases, the Commission said.

"Corporate tax avoidance is thought to deprive EU member states' public budgets of billions on euros a year. It also undermines fair burden-sharing among tax payers and fair competition between businesses," the Commission said in a statement.

"Companies rely on the complexity of tax rules and the lack of cooperation between member states to shift profits and minimise their taxes, Therefore boosting transparency and cooperation in vital in the battle against aggressive tax planning and abusive tax practices," it said.

The Commission has proposed the setting up of an automatic exchange of information between countries. Member states would be required to send a short report to all other member states, listing all cross-border tax ruling that they have issued. Other countries can then ask for further information on a particular ruling.

This proposal would help countries to detect "abusive tax practices" and take action in response, the Commission said.

"It should also encourage healthier tax competition, as tax authorities will be less likely to offer selective tax treatment to companies once this is open to scrutiny by their peers," it said.

Tax commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in an interview with Euranet Plus that tax rulings are not illegal and that the Commission is not seeking to question the system itself.

An exchange of information on tax rulings will force EU member states to take a fair approach to tax competition and companies will avoid tax abusive strategies, Moscovici told Euranet Plus.

"Rulings are an important mechanism for taxpayers to get certainty about their tax affairs. The Commission's approach in ensuring that ruling systems are operated fairly is a good one, but having a robust and proper rulings process is an important part of an efficient tax process, and reduces compliance costs for taxpayers and Revenue authorities alike," said Heather Self, a tax partner at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

The tax transparency package also includes a second proposal, including other initiatives to "advance the tax transparency agenda", the Commission said.

These initiatives are: new transparency requirements for companies, including the public  disclosure of some tax information by multinational companies; a review of the Code of Conduct on Business Taxation; an attempt to develop a reliable estimate of the level of tax evasion and avoidance across member states; and the repeat of the Savings Tax Directive, which the Commission believes has been "overtaken by more ambitious EU legislation".

Reliable statistics of the scale and impact of these problems would help to better target policy measures against them, the Commission said.

This attempt to understand the actual level of tax evasion and avoidance is vital, Self said

"Revenue authorities need to know the size of a problem before they can develop appropriate solutions. We really need evidence-based policy-making, otherwise there is a risk that compliance burdens are imposed beyond those which are needed to prevent abuse," she said.

The proposals will now be submitted to the European Parliament for consultation and to the European Council for adoption, the Commission said.

"Member states should agree on the tax rulings [information sharing] proposal by the end of 2015, so that it can enter into force on 1 January 2016. Given that the European Council in December 2014 called on the Commission to make this proposal, full political commitment on reaching a timely agreement should be expected."

The proposal comes in the wake of a series on investigations by the Commission into tax rulings for multinational companies in Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The European Parliament said in February that it planned to set up a special committee to look at tax ruling practices in EU member states.