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Europe opens investigations into tax exemptions for Belgian and French ports

Staff Writer |
The European Commission has opened two in-depth probes to check if corporate tax exemptions under Belgian and French law to ports' economic activities are in line with EU state aid rules.

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Cross-border competition plays an important role in the ports sector and the Commission is committed to ensuring a level playing field in this important economic sector.

The main activity of ports is the transfer of people and cargo, as well as the provision of infrastructure to shipping companies, shipbuilders and other companies.

This commercial operation of port infrastructure constitutes an economic activity, for which ports should pay corporate tax, just like other companies do.

However, ports also carry out certain activities that are linked to the exercise of essential State responsibilities such as safety, surveillance and traffic control. Such activities fall outside the scope of EU state aid control.

A corporate tax exemption for ports that earn profits from economic activities provides them with a selective advantage compared with their competitors in other Member States and therefore involves state aid within the meaning of the EU rules.

In Belgium, a number of sea and inland waterway ports (notably the ports of Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Charleroi, Ghent, Liège, Namur and Ostend, as well as ports along the canals in Hainaut Province and Flanders) are exempt from the general corporate income tax regime.

These ports are subject to a different tax regime, with a different base and tax rates, resulting in an overall lower level of taxation for Belgian ports on their commercial activities as compared to other companies in Belgium.

In France, most ports, notably the 11 "grands ports maritimes" (Bordeaux, Dunkerque, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Marseille, Nantes - Saint-Nazaire and Rouen as well as Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique and Réunion), the 'Port autonome de Paris', and ports operated by chambers of industry and commerce, are fully exempt from corporate income tax.

This self-evidently results in an overall lower level of taxation for French ports on their commercial activities as compared to other companies in France.

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