Aggressive tax planning in the EU and the role of enablers – Feedback on public consultation
In July 2022, the European Commission (EC) gave notice of its wish to introduce another set of measures designed to tackle aggressive tax planning (ATP) by targeting so-called “enablers”, being persons or firms who assist taxpayers in planning their tax affairs in an aggressive fashion. This goes by the curious acronym SAFE, which stands for “Secure the Activity Framework for Enablers”. The EC published a consultation paper, in the form of a survey questionnaire, to obtain views from various stakeholders on the merits of a new set of measures and on the various alternative features that it could take. This was to be part of a broader consultation process that includes tax administrations, ministries of finance and certain business associations.
The EC has now published a summary of the results of the survey questionnaire. There were 59 contributions to the survey, of which over two-thirds represented business associations (including STEP) and companies/businesses (including the four large international audit companies). Some aspects of the survey results are of interest but noting that there is little indication in the feedback as to which way the EC might lean in terms of pursuing the SAFE initiative.
In a number of areas there was an even split in the views expressed, for example in relation to:
- Whether ATP continues to be a substantial problem, notwithstanding the various existing measures
- Whether enablers play an important role in facilitating ATP
- Whether the regulation should be in the form of hard or soft law, but noting that the most common response was “Other” suggesting a wish for no regulation at all
- Whether an EU register of enables would be effective
- Whether a code of conduct would be effective
Areas where there appears to have been a clearer majority view included the following:
- That there has not been a significant increase in ATP over recent years, including an absence of evidence provided in the consultation paper to support any such increase
- Concerns regarding the term “aggressive tax planning” and lack of definition
- The need for action to prevent enablers from facilitating ATP
- That due diligence procedures would not be an effective option to prevent ATP, including due to the additional compliance costs involved
In conclusion, it is difficult to see how the EC will react to this particular survey given that the views were either evenly split or mixed. Given the political momentum that has been created so far for a SAFE measure, it is possible that the EC will not consider the survey results to be sufficiently clear to justify abandoning the project. It is understood that a more concrete proposal will be issued in June.