No let-up in the targeting of Ireland’s tax regime

No let-up in the targeting of Ireland’s tax regime
Ursula von der Leyen

As the new European Commission gets ready to begin its term of office over the coming weeks, incoming president Ursula von der Leyen has laid out her priorities very clearly and once she gets all of her commissioners ratified over the coming days, the real work will then begin.

Naturally, we will hear a lot about the green agenda and all sorts of vague aspirations will be enunciated, but hopefully they will be followed up with real effective actions.

It is well passed the stage when lip service is being paid to this very pressing issue.

To date, I have seen little that would convince me that aggressive action will be taken, but Ms von der Leyen should be given the benefit of the doubt.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Tax policy will also be a key part of the agenda and along with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the commission will work towards engineering a corporate tax system that is deemed fair and which will seek to ensure that all corporations pay a fair share of tax.

The real objective is to ensure that the countries where the economic activity is created, rather than where aspects of the balance sheet reside, will receive their due bounties and that all companies will pay an effective minimum rate of tax.

Since 2015, when the inflow of intellectual property assets delivered utterly bizarre GDP growth of over 26%, Ireland has become a focus of global attention, along with a few other countries.

The oft-heard view is that Ireland is using its corporation tax system to allow large corporations avoid their fiscal responsibilities.

Ireland will argue that its system is totally legal and that measures that are utilised here facilitate healthy global tax competition.

In addition, Ireland will point to the fact that it has moved over the past couple of years to remove the more dubious aspects of the corporate tax code.

All of this may not be enough.

Despite what Ireland will and does argue, the reality is that there is a real perception out there that Ireland is a tax haven of sorts.

The French and the Germans are particularly taxed by this perception and they both will be instrumental in continuing to push the EU tax agenda to ensure that a fairer system and a level playing field is created.

It is not hard to see where the motivation for this agenda is coming from.

Basically, countries like France and Germany are living through significant ageing of their populations, with obvious implications for future spending on healthcare and pensions.

Naturally, they would like to ensure that every country is able to collect what is rightfully theirs and not be forced to control social spending in an environment where other countries are stealing their tax revenues.

In any event, from a moral perspective if nothing else, it is just not right that large global corporations who have the resources to buy the best possible tax and legal advice should be allowed to walk away from their responsibilities.

Globally, there is and will be a lot of support for this agenda across the political spectrum and even in countries like the Netherlands, where corporate tax structures are used aggressively, there is a growing political acceptance of the rights and wrongs of the situation.

For Ireland, this whole agenda does pose a significant challenge and potential threat.

The commission will continue to drive the so-called Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base agenda and a digital tax over the next political term.

It will be very difficult for Ireland to stand in the way of these developments, particularly given that Ireland has used up a lot of political capital at an EU level due to the unwavering support it has received on the Brexit issue.

It will be difficult for the Irish MEPs to vote against the EU’s corporate tax agenda.

It is impossible to say at this stage how quickly the EU will deliver on its agenda or of the implications of any future changes for Ireland’s tax base and multi-national employment, but Irish policymakers really do need to build it into their long-term strategy the changes to global corporate taxation that are undoubtedly coming down the road.

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