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EU: Luxembourg and Netherlands to take €30m from Starbucks and Fiat

Staff writer |
The European Commission has decided that Luxembourg and the Netherlands have granted selective tax advantages to Fiat Finance and Trade and Starbucks, respectively. These are illegal under EU state aid rules.

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Following in-depth investigations, which were launched in June 2014, the Commission has concluded that Luxembourg has granted selective tax advantages to Fiat's financing company and the Netherlands to Starbucks' coffee roasting company. In each case, a tax ruling issued by the respective national tax authority artificially lowered the tax paid by the company. Tax rulings as such are perfectly legal.

They are comfort letters issued by tax authorities to give a company clarity on how its corporate tax will be calculated or on the use of special tax provisions.

However, the two tax rulings under investigation endorsed artificial and complex methods to establish taxable profits for the companies. They do not reflect economic reality.

This is done, in particular, by setting prices for goods and services sold between companies of the Fiat and Starbucks groups, so-called transfer prices, that do not correspond to market conditions.

As a result, most of the profits of Starbucks' coffee roasting company are shifted abroad, where they are also not taxed, and Fiat's financing company only paid taxes on underestimated profits.

This is illegal under EU state aid rules: Tax rulings cannot use methodologies, no matter how complex, to establish transfer prices with no economic justification and which unduly shift profits to reduce the taxes paid by the company.

It would give that company an unfair competitive advantage over other companies (typically SMEs) that are taxed on their actual profits because they pay market prices for the goods and services they use.

Therefore, the Commission has ordered Luxembourg and the Netherlands to recover the unpaid tax from Fiat and Starbucks, respectively, in order to remove the unfair competitive advantage they have enjoyed and to restore equal treatment with other companies in similar situations.

The amounts to recover are €20 - €30 million for each company. It also means that the companies can no longer continue to benefit from the advantageous tax treatment granted by these tax rulings.


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