Top menu

Waiting for Godot: tackling multinationals’ tax avoidance

Il problema dell’armonizzazione fiscale e della lotta all’elusione delle multinazionali all’interno dell’Unione Europea non può più essere rimandato. Occorre far leva sulla trasparenza e la reputazione delle imprese. Da “Social Europe”.

The Netherlands’ insistence that everyone ‘go Dutch’ on mushrooming coronavirus deficits in the European Union has (given its complicity) revived the debate on tax havens within the EU. In an ideal world, action on joint debt issuance should go hand in hand with tax harmonisation and brakes on fiscal dumping.

But, given the current standstill in Europe, it is more likely that national solutions to avoid tax-base erosion will be sought, at least in the near future. Enforcing transparency and leveraging on company reputations could be enacted more effectively than the bans and regulations currently considered.


New data published by the Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman remind us once again who wins and who loses in the tax-competition game. In 2017, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy lost revenues of $18 billion, $20 billion, $13 billion and $6 billion respectively from tax avoidance by multinational enterprises (MNEs), through profit-shifting to tax havens.

While tax havens conjure up an image of palm trees and white-sand beaches, the data show a much more prosaic lack of neighbourly love. Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are responsible for the vast majority (between 80 and 90 per cent) of tax avoidance in the EU. This is facilitated by international tax rules and the lack of unitary taxation.

In 2018 the European Commission and Parliament approved a plan for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB). Under this, profits of MNEs would be allocated among member states on the basis of objective metrics such as turnover and number of employees. But the proposal is stuck in limbo in the European Council, where tax matters are decided by unanimity and reforms are blocked by those countries which benefit most from the status quo.

While it is reassuring that the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has included CCCTB on the ‘to do’ list of the commissioner for the economy, Paolo Gentiloni, the political will needs to come from the large European countries—all losers from tax competition—to put full tax harmonisation centre stage. This at a time when discussion around the Recovery Fund also requires a marked leap forward in co-operation and co-ordination.

Continua a leggere