The European Commission believes that the only systematic way to address the underlying tax obstacles which exist for companies operating in more than one Member State in the Internal Market is to provide companies with a consolidated corporate tax base for their EU-wide activities. Targeted solutions have many merits and would go some way towards remedying the tax obstacles. However, even if all of them were implemented, they would not address the fundamental problem of dealing with up to 25 different tax systems.
The Commission´s Directorate-General responsible for Taxation and the Customs Union are currently working on two main comprehensive approaches to remove tax obstacles which companies face in the Internal Market:
- The Common Consolidated Tax Base and
- a pilot scheme for Home State Taxation for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
Home State Taxation for SMEs
The European Commission has adopted a Communication (COM/05/702) that presents a possible solution to the compliance costs and other company tax difficulties that Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) face when doing business across borders. The Commission suggests that Member States allow SMEs to compute their company tax profits according to the tax rules of the home state of the parent company or head office. An SME wishing to establish a subsidiary or branch in another Member State would as a result be able to use the familiar tax rules of its home State when calculating its taxable profits (see also Impact Assessment SEC/05/1785 , press release IP/06/11 , and frequently asked questions MEMO/06/4 ).
The "Home State Taxation" system would be voluntary for both Member States and companies and would run for a five-year pilot phase. The Commission's 2004 European Tax Survey (see IP/04/1091 and European Tax Survey/Taxation Paper n° 3) showed that cross-border activity leads to higher company tax and VAT compliance costs for companies and that costs are proportionately higher for SMEs than for large companies.
The concept of Home State Taxation presented by the Commission is based on the idea of voluntary mutual recognition of tax rules by EU Member States. Under this concept, the profits of a group of companies active in more than one Member State would be computed according to the rules of one company tax system only, i.e. the system of the Home State of the parent company or head office of the group.
An SME wishing to establish a subsidiary or permanent establishment in another Member State would therefore be able to use only the tax rules with which it is already familiar.
- The definition of an SME would be that commonly used in the EU-companies with fewer than 250 staff, a turnover of €50 million or less, and/or a balance sheet total of €43 million or less.
- The Home State Taxation scheme would not mean taxation in the Home State only. It would simply mean that an SME's tax base (i.e. taxable profits) would be calculated in accordance with the rules of the Home State. Each participating Member State would then tax at its own corporate tax rate its share of the profits determined according to its share of the total payroll and/or turnover.
- Introducing the scheme on a pilot, time-limited, basis would test the practical merits of the concept for SMEs and its broader economic benefits for the EU while limiting the administrative costs and potential risks for Member States. The Commission's Communication provides detailed elements of such a Home State Taxation pilot scheme.
- Member States that agreed to introduce this scheme could do so via a bilateral or multilateral agreement, by temporarily supplementing existing double taxation treaties or multilateral conventions, or by concluding a new multilateral convention.
In the Commission's opinion, the concept of Home State Taxation appears to be a very promising way of tackling the tax problems that hamper SMEs when they are expanding across borders. The most common problems are compliance costs and absence of relief for cross-border losses.
The potential overall economic benefit for the Internal Market from such a measure could be considerable. The Commission has in its Lisbon Action Plan (see IP/05/973 ) given a new impetus to achieving the Lisbon objectives, including in the tax field. It has repeatedly highlighted the important role of small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU's economic development and has called for broad policy actions in favour of SMEs. The European Council of 23 March 2005 repeated this call.
A public consultation on Home State Taxation was held in 2003.
In June 2004, a further questionnaire and a detailed " Outline of a possible experimental application of Home State Taxation to small and medium-sized enterprises " were published. A summary report of the replies received in response to this questionnaire is available.
Moreover, in July 2004 a non-paper on the pilot scheme idea was presented by the Commission and submitted to the informal ECOFIN meeting in September 2004. However, no substantial discussion of the non-paper took place.
The idea of Home State Taxation has originally been developed in academic research - see: Lodin, S.-O. and Gammie, M., Home State Taxation, IBFD Publications, Amsterdam , 2001. The summary of this book is freely available.