It's amazing what you miss in this ever-changing, fast-moving world we live in. But you'd think that I might have caught this...
The notion of a 'Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee', dated 23 May 2001, is not, I admit, likely to be a serious e-download, any time soon (there are lots of references to discipline, but little sex, I suspect). On the other hand, the phrase that follows, "Tax policy in the European Union - priorities for the years ahead", might just ring alarm bells in some quarters. So, how did I come across it, and why now, of all times?
In truth, it is referred to in a policy resolution submitted for debate at next month's ELDR Congress, so I thought that I had better take a look. And what I found didn't surprise me that much. It is, as you might expect, laden with grand statements, such as;
- underpin the Lisbon goal for the EU to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world;
- support the continued success and development of the Internal Market by allowing, both before and after enlargement, all EU Member States to compete on a level playing field and extract the full benefits of the Internal Market;
- contribute to a durable reduction in the overall tax burden in the EU, by ensuring that a balance between cutting taxes, investing in public services and sustaining fiscal consolidation is preserved;
- reinforce EU economic, employment, innovation, health and consumer protection, sustainable development, environmental and energy policies; and
- support the modernisation of the European Social Model.
You can see how such a document would terrify those Conservatives on the right of their party. It talks about the European Social Model, yet encourages cutting the overall tax burden. It is, whisper it quietly, vaguely reasonable, the sort of thing that might be seen to be a 'good thing', regardless of its viability (a Europe-wide recession might not be helpful to the cause).
However, what has attracted my attention is the references to cross-border taxation issues, particularly relating to double taxation. Double taxation is one of those rather annoying elements of international trade, whereby your overseas customer is obliged to withhold tax from payments made to you unless the correct certification is provided. Given that most tax officials don't know much about this, and that national tax authorities are less than entirely helpful in terms of providing information about how to go about making a claim for repayment or, better still, exemption, it acts as a potential barrier for smaller companies.
My friends from Fianna Fail know what they want though;
The European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party convening in Dublin, Ireland on 8-11 November 2012 calls on its members;
- to take action to remove remaining cross-border tax obstacles such as discrimination, double taxation, difficulties in claiming tax refunds and difficulties in obtaining information on foreign tax rules, thus empowering citizens to play a full part in the single market.
And on this, I think that they have a point worth supporting.