Press release

EU proposal: Tax anti-avoidance measures

Peter Vale Peter Vale

Today’s proposals see the EU seek to implement a raft of tax anti-avoidance measures to combat tax strategies that are seen as distorting the EU market. Some of the measures can be linked to the OECD’s global tax anti-avoidance BEPS project while others are specific to the EU.

The measures today can be seen as the “softer” bits of the BEPS project and do not tackle the much more sensitive elements, such as how do you tax a group that has valuable intellectual property situated in a tax haven. These will follow once that part of the BEPS project reaches its conclusion.

Importantly, the controversial CCCTB proposals, which seek to harmonise and consolidate the way taxable profits are allocated across EU countries, are not included in today’s release. More on CCCTB is expected in the autumn. CCCTB is probably the most dangerous piece of legislation from Ireland’s perspective as it would severely reduce the benefit of our low tax rate and reduce our attractiveness for foreign investment.

Broadly, the measures announced today should not significantly impact Ireland. Ireland already has many tax avoidance measures enshrined in our domestic legislation and our tax regime is viewed by both the EU and OECD as very transparent. However some of the measures, including proposed caps on the tax deductibility of interest and the taxation of subsidiaries in tax havens, would potentially impact Ireland. 

A key question is whether the EU will manage to get this Directive over the line given the need for unanimity among Member States. Any country can veto the proposals effectively rendering them dead in the water. Some countries may feel that the proposals are a step towards the ultimate harmonisation of tax rates across the EU. Other countries may wonder why the EU is pressing ahead with proposals that increase the tax burden on EU companies and reduce the competitiveness of the EU vis a vis the rest of the world.

Given the difficulties associated with getting any tax proposals over the line at EU level, what is more likely is that countries will look to the OECD BEPS proposals with regard to implementation. The danger here is that an “a la carte” approach is taken, with countries choosing the elements that suit their fiscal strategy. Consistent implementation of the OECD’s BEPS proposals was always going to be a major challenge and the benefit of getting agreement amongst EU countries is that you would at least have consistent implementation throughout the EU.

A risk with an a la carte approach to implementation is that you end up with a divergence of tax rules and the potential for double taxation of the same income, thus significantly increasing cost and complexity for businesses.

Stepping back, we know that there are fundamental changes coming in the global tax climate and today’s announcement is another step in that direction. There is already a very different mind-set in terms of attitude and political resolve towards tackling tax avoidance. However we are probably about two years away from knowing the final shape of this new environment.

A lot can happen in those two years but what we do know is that the new order will place a heavy emphasis on substance, which can be hugely positive for Ireland as companies look to invest in real economies with a plentiful supply of labour and a low headline tax rate.